Only on His Terms(4)

By: Elizabeth Bevarly

 But he offered no indication that he expected her to get it for him. “No, I’ve had my quota for the day, too.”

 The conversation seemed ready to stall, and Gracie was desperate to hold on to the only friend she was likely to make today. As a result, she blurted out the first thing that popped into her head. “So...this house. This room. This view. Is this place gorgeous or what?”

 Her question seemed to stump him. He glanced around the library as if he were seeing it for the first time, but he didn’t seem nearly as impressed as she. “It’s all right, I guess. The room’s a little formal for my taste, and the view’s a little boring, but...”

 It was a rare individual who wouldn’t covet a house as grand as this, Gracie thought. Although she had no intention of keeping it or much of anything else Harry had left her, since fourteen billion—yes, billion with a b—dollars was way too much money for a single individual to have, she still felt a keen appreciation for its beauty.

 “Well, what kind of place do you call home?” she asked.

 Without hesitation, he told her, “Bright lights, big city. I’ve lived in Manhattan since I started college, and I’m never leaving.”

 His enthusiasm for the fast-paced setting didn’t seem to fit with how he’d reminded her of Harry earlier. But she tried to sound convincing when she said, “Oh. Okay.”

 She must not have done a very good job, though, because he said, “You sound surprised.”

 “I guess I am, kind of.”

 “Why?” He suddenly seemed a little defensive.

 She shrugged. “Maybe because I was just thinking how you remind me of someone I used to know, and he wasn’t a bright-lights, big-city kind of guy at all.”

 At least, he hadn’t been when Gracie knew him. But Harry’s life before that? Who knew? Nothing she’d discovered about him in the past week had seemed true to the man she’d called her friend for years.

 Her new friend’s wariness seemed to increase. “Old boyfriend?”

 “Well, old, anyway,” Gracie said with a smile. “More like a grandfather, though.”

 He relaxed visibly, but still looked sweetly abashed. “You know, the last thing a guy wants to hear when he’s trying to impress a beautiful woman he’s just met is how he reminds her of her grandfather.”

 He thought she was beautiful? Was he trying to impress her? And was he actually admitting it? Did he know how one of her turn-ons, coming in second after a bewitching smile, was men who spoke frankly and honestly? Especially because she’d known so few of them. Really, none other than Harry.

 “I, uh...” she stammered. “I mean, um, ah...”

 He seemed to take great pleasure in having rendered her speechless. Not arrogantly so, but as if he were simply delighted by his success. “So you’re not a big-city type yourself?”

 Grateful for the change of subject—and something she could respond to with actual words—she shook her head. “Not at all. I mean, I’ve lived in big cities all my life, but never in the city proper. I’ve always been a suburban girl.”

 Even though she’d never known her father and had lived in an apartment growing up, her life had been no different from her friends’ who’d lived in houses with yards and a two-parents-and-siblings family unit. Her mother had been active at her school and the leader of her Brownie troop. And even with her meager income, Marian Sumner had somehow always had enough for summer vacations and piano and gymnastics lessons. As a girl, Gracie had spent summers playing in the park, autumns jumping into leaf piles, winters building snowmen and springs riding her bike. Completely unremarkable. Totally suburban.

 Her new friend considered her again, but this time, he seemed to be taking in something other than her physical appearance. “At first, I was thinking you seem like the city type, too. The suit is a little retro, but you’d still be right at home in the East Village or Williamsburg. Now, though...”

 His voice trailed off before he completed his analysis, and he studied Gracie in the most interesting—and interested—way. Heat pooled in her midsection, spiraling outward, until every cell she possessed felt as if it was going to catch fire. The entire room seemed to go silent for an interminable moment, as if everyone else had disappeared, and it was just the two of them alone in the universe. She’d never experienced anything like it before. It was...unsettling. But nice.

 “Now?” she echoed, hoping to spur his response and end the curious spell. The word came out so quietly, however, and he still seemed so lost in thought, that she wondered if he’d even heard her.

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