Read 9 1/2 Days Online

Authors: Mia Zachary

Tags: #Category

9 1/2 Days (3 page)

“I’ve got her, L.T.”

Danny balanced on the balls of his feet then lunged up to catch the edge of the eighth floor. Using sheer arm strength, he pulled himself to chest height before pivoting to swing his legs up as well. He got to his feet and saw Mike holding the flashlight, trying to check on the woman.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine. Really. I just need to go—”

“Wait a minute,” Danny protested. When she turned in his direction, his heart slammed to a stunned halt. He completely forgot whatever else he’d planned to say. The words caught in his throat as it tightened in dismay.

Gaze downcast, the woman still refused to look at him. But he didn’t need to see her eyes to know they were the golden brown color of maple syrup. Despite the gloom in the hallway, he knew that her hair had mahogany highlights and that her skin was the warm tone of caramel. He also knew he’d just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

Her voice sounded tight with embarrassment. “Thank you very much for helping me. I appreciate it.”

Mike started to speak. “If you’re sure…”

But she was already hurrying away down the dark corridor. Danny sensed his colleague turning to him, but his attention followed the elusive glimpse of red silk.

“Well, I see you managed to get some of her lipstick.” Mike’s voice held a note of jealous humor. Danny drew the back of his hand across his mouth and looked down to see a smear of color on his knuckles. “Did you get her name and phone number, too?”

“No, I didn’t get her number.”

“Too bad, L.T. She looked hot.”

Danny had no intention of getting the number now. And he already knew her name. Jordan Gregory.

His brother David’s girlfriend.

“K
RISSY
L
YNN
. What the hell kind of name is Krissy Lynn?”
Jordan leaned back in the conference room chair and watched her newest client, Susan Brandywine, pace the expensive wool carpeting. Her hands were jammed into the pockets of her palazzo pants, the kind Katherine Hepburn always wore in the late-night movies Jordan liked to watch.

“She’s blond and petite and just so gosh-darned eager.” Susan batted her eyelashes exaggeratedly. “And get this, she’s all of twenty-five years old. I’ve got sweaters older than this bubble-headed bimbo.”

Jordan didn’t look up from the note she jotted on a legal pad as she asked, “Aren’t you judging your replacement in the same manner you claim you’re being judged?”

Susan had been the female anchor on the WBNS nightly news team for ten years. After a messy and painful divorce, she began suffering from depression and put on some weight. At that point, she was shuffled from the prominent evening slot to a position reading the midday news.

The demotion fueled Susan’s depression, as did the comments of the news director and station manager, who suggested she lose weight, dress more femininely and grow out her “mannish” hairstyle. Then, just before her fortieth birthday, the station decided to “go with a more up-to-date look” for midday.

Susan stopped near the window overlooking the Camden Yards baseball stadium and sighed, running a strong hand through her short dark hair. “Yeah, damn it, I guess I am. But it hurts, Jordan. It really hurts.”

She made a sympathetic noise as her client continued to stare at the view. Jordan stood up and moved to the window. “I know exactly how you must feel.”

Susan eyed her up and down and scoffed. “Sure you do, honey.”

“You’re seeing me now. Not as the almost two-hundred-pound girl with bad skin and no friends I used to be.” She turned up the corners of her mouth, hoping it resembled a smile.

Susan nodded. “So as a former ‘fat girl’ yourself, you’re in the best position to defend me.”

Something inside of her twisted at the comparison, but Jordan focused on what was important. “I think we have a good chance with both the wrongful termination and the discrimination cases.”

“You know, I have a journalism degree from Columbia. I started out writing copy at a couple of newspapers. Journalism requires long hours, unbeatable dedication and street smarts as well as brain smarts.” Susan’s expression hardened. “It does not require looking like a Barbie doll. Especially not when my male co-anchors have gray hair, paunches and bags under their eyes. What does
sex appeal
have to do with my ability to tell an audience about a multiple rush-hour fatality on the Beltway?”

Susan was a very attractive woman: literate, funny, irreverent, and she had great personal style. And yet Jordan couldn’t suppress her reluctant aversion. It was like seeing herself the way she used to be, the way she’d worked so hard never to be again…

However, she wasn’t about to let her personal issues affect her zealous defense of a case. “In our favor, several successful lawsuits have set a precedent. For example, Connecticut anchorwoman Janet Peckinpaugh won her 1999 case against
Post-News-week
. You’re not too old, nor too fat, to do your job, Susan. And we’re going to prove it.”

From fifteen floors below, Jordan was distracted by the strident peal of a fire engine racing up Howard Street. The huge machine blared its horn at slow-moving cars until they pulled far enough toward the sidewalk for the engine to get by. She wondered if her elevator rescuer was onboard.

She also wondered what he looked like. Jordan had been too ashamed to look at him when he’d stood before her, too embarrassed to glance back as she fled. The firefighter from the elevator would never be more than a faceless memory.

3
J
ORDAN DOVE INTO
the sea of bodies on the sidewalk and headed down Pratt Street past the Convention Center and the Garmatz Federal Courthouse. She’d conducted all of her meetings and handled her caseload on autopilot this morning, unable to concentrate.
She couldn’t stop thinking about…him. He was a complete mystery, this sensual stranger. And yet some air of familiarity had prompted her to let him kiss her, fondle and stroke her in the most intimate ways. Each time she closed her eyes, she experienced again the heat of his touch and the drugging taste of his kiss. Her lips actually tingled.

Jordan startled when someone jostled her elbow. Realizing she’d been lost in thought,
again,
she hurried to cross Charles Street before the traffic light changed. Downtown was teeming with tourists, many wearing Baltimore Orioles T-shirts in anticipation of tonight’s game. Exhaust fumes polluted the humid air while the sounds of crawling traffic echoed off the multistory buildings.

She waited through another red light by the Gallery mall on Light Street. She’d left her jacket at the office in deference to the heat, but the September sun seemed intent on burning a hole through her cotton shirtdress. Over the last few blocks, it felt as if her panty hose was melting and permanently adhering to her legs. Not to mention the way the waistband was strangling her. Queen-size? Yeah, right.

The early-autumn heat wave made everything hot and tight and sticky. Not unlike the heat she felt racing along her veins whenever she relived those mind-blowing moments at the St. Charles Hotel. Over the past two nights, the firefighter from the elevator had become the faceless lover of her dreams. In her midnight fantasies that first explosive orgasm was followed by several others as they made crazy, passionate love against the wood-paneled wall.

Jordan gave herself a mental shake as a truck horn blared impatiently. She had to stop this. There was probably a special area in purgatory for good girls gone bad. And she might as well get used to the idea because, if her daydreams were any indication, she was more than willing to be bad again.

She crossed the street with a determined stride, heading toward the Pratt Street Pavilion where she was meeting her college roommates, Sheris Smith and Melanie Walters, for their Monthly Monday lunch. In the tiny amphitheater between the two main buildings of the Harborplace complex, a crowd clapped and ignored the midday heat as a juggler tossed bowling pins in time to music.

The cool air inside the Pavilion was a welcome relief, and Jordan took a moment to let her body adjust and to check her watch. Five minutes early. Which meant Melanie would arrive at exactly twelve-thirty, and they should only have to wait another fifteen minutes after that for Sheris to show up.

She opened the door to the Cheesecake Factory restaurant, gave her name to the hostess and asked for an inside table. Once seated, she settled in with a raspberry iced tea, idly gazing out the tinted glass window.

Families and couples of all ages strolled along the red brick promenade on the harbor’s edge. Water taxis and duck boats carried tourists around the Patapsco River between the Inner Harbor and Fell’s Point. A line of people waited to tour the USS
Constellation,
a three-masted Civil War sloop anchored at Pier One.

Looking past the facade of the World Trade Center, Jordan could see the triangular glass roof of the National Aquarium. She’d been meaning to get over there and see the new Amazon River Forest exhibit…

“Hi!” Melanie bounced toward the table at twelve-thirty on the dot and waved to several people as she walked by. Mel was a diminutive dynamo and seemed to know everybody. With her petite figure and boy-short hairstyle, she looked like a happy pixie.

She dressed like one, too. Today she wore a bright yellow-and-white-striped pants set that complemented her coffee skin. Jordan smiled. You couldn’t help but smile at Melanie. She was like a walking dose of antidepressant. Her wide-set eyes always reflected her joy in life.

She stood up to trade hugs. No air kisses with Mel, who was genuine in everything she did. “I’m glad you could come today.”

“Of course, Jordan! I wouldn’t miss our monthly lunch! How have you been? Is that our waitress? I’m dying of thirst!”

“Try the raspberry tea. I think you’ll like it.” Jordan kept her voice carefully modulated since Melanie tended to make either a question or an exclamation of everything she said. “So, tell me what’s new.”

“Rochelle did so well in school! And can you believe it? Chris made the winning goal for his soccer team during the last game of the season! Guess what we’re doing? Bill and I are taking the kids to Disney!”

“That sounds great. But I thought you were planning a vacation without the kids.” Although Melanie treated her boyfriend’s children like her own, Jordan knew she often wished for more adults-only time.

Melanie reached for her tea and drank half of it before answering. “Oh, that’s our anniversary trip in November! Bill and I are going back to Costa Rica! I think he’s finally going to propose! Have you and David talked about where you’ll spend your honeymoon? You two would just love Costa Rica!”

She was saved from having to answer when she noticed heads near the restaurant entrance turning. “There’s Sheris.”

Sheris nodded in response to Melanie’s excited wave and sauntered across the dining room. She always moved as though she owned whatever place she was in. Given her family’s diversified investments, she might very well have part ownership of the restaurant.

Jordan stifled a pang of envy over her friend’s casual stylishness. Jordan spent hours meticulously planning her outfits and tending to her hair and makeup. Meanwhile, Sheris managed to look gorgeous in whatever she’d thrown on before casually running a brush through her hair and walking out the door. Her dark gypsy curls fell past her shoulders, which were bared by the white peasant blouse she wore with a short leather skirt and sandals. Only Sheris could wear leather in this heat and still look cool.

“Sorry I’m late,” she offered as she brushed a kiss near each of their cheeks. Sheris dropped her overstuffed Louis Vuitton bag on the floor and slid into the seat across from Jordan.

“You’re right on time, actually. Are you sick?”

Sheris laughed. “No, just depressed. I came downtown early to do some pity purchasing.”

Jordan glanced down but didn’t see even a small shopping bag. “You didn’t find anything you liked?”

“Actually I saw several things, but I restrained myself in case I’m still feeling blue tomorrow.” Sheris pulled back her hair to reveal a stunning pair of Ceylon sapphire earrings that exactly matched her deep-set eyes.

Melanie angled closer to get a better look. “Wow! Those are really blue! I take it you broke things off with Grant?”

“Yeah. It seemed best.” Sheris’s reply sounded offhand, but the expression on her face said otherwise. She paused while the waitress brought another glass of tea and three menus.

“You know, it was so great in the beginning. I thought maybe…well, you know how it goes. I got restless, he got defensive. He wanted to buy a place together, I suggested he find a place by himself.”

“I’m sorry, honey.” Jordan reached over to grasp her hand.

“Me, too.” Sheris offered a bright smile. “But, hey, they can’t all be Bill or David now, can they?”

“Or Logan.” Melanie threw out the comment while perusing the extensive lunch choices.

Sheris dropped her menu on the table. “Now what in the world made you bring up my ex-husband?”

Mel looked embarrassed. “It just slipped out? I must have heard him last night?”

“Has he still got that little radio program? I didn’t realize.” Sheris tried unsuccessfully to sound dismissive and bored.

Jordan pictured the full-size, full-color billboards on I-95 and the B/W Parkway coming into the city and hid her smile. If Sheris wanted to pretend to be the only person in the Baltimore metropolitan area who didn’t listen to
In the Mood with McGuire,
so be it.

“Logan was just one in a long line of relationship regrets.” With that, Sheris changed the subject. “I’m going to have the Crusted Chicken Romano over Fettuccine. How about you girls?”

“Mmm. Sounds good,” Melanie replied. “But I’m going to go with the Seafood Cobb Salad.”

Jordan’s stomach growled at the thought of fried chicken and carbohydrate-laden pasta or fat-packed avocados, shrimp and blue cheese. She stifled a sigh, knowing she couldn’t afford to let down her guard. “I’ll just have the baked fish and a tossed salad.”

After placing their orders, they spent some time catching up on news and acquaintances. Inevitably, though, the conversation turned intimate. Sheris dabbed a spot of pasta sauce from her mouth.

“In some ways it’s a relief that things ended with Grant, but I sure am going to miss the sex. That guy could go all night.”

“Really?” Melanie pouted a little and searched her salad for any shrimp she’d missed. “With the kids around most of the time, I’m lucky if Bill and I manage more than thirty minutes. What about you and David?”

“Um, actually things have been a little, um…how do I say this?” Jordan leaned forward and dropped her voice to a whisper. “I bought a sex manual.”

“Good for you!” Sheris grinned at her. “Which one? I have a fairly extensive collection myself.”

“I got
Fifty Fast Fantasies
last week.”

Sheris nodded and speared a chunk of chicken off her plate. “That’s a good one. I especially enjoyed Ride Him, Cowgirl and The Butler Did It.”

Jordan choked on a bite of her baked trout and felt her cheeks flame. How could Sheris be so casual about acts that embarrassed her just reading about them? She looked over to see that Melanie had reacted the same way.

Mel’s eyebrows arched toward her hairline. “You, um—you acted them out? I mean, you actually—”

“Well, of course, honey. There’s no reason to buy a sex book if you’re just going to leave it in the drawer.”

“Shh!” Jordan and Melanie both tried to silence her when two men at a nearby table looked over with undisguised interest.

“Oh, come on, girls. Our college days aren’t that far behind us, are they?”

“I don’t know, Sheris. My college days weren’t nearly as social as yours.” Jordan set down her fork. “I mean, I bought the manual. But I’m not sure I can go through with some of those fantasies.”

“Nonsense. You wouldn’t have even looked at a book like that, let alone bought it, if your sex life was satisfying.”

“Shh!”

“Well, you wouldn’t have. So obviously you’re curious and curiosity is key to great sex.” Sheris pushed her empty plate aside. “You have to be willing to discover things about your partner and let him find things out about you. Like, I found out that Scott was into ropes and James loved to be spanked—”

“Eeww!” Melanie wrinkled her elfin nose. “Too much information!”

“Hey, I’m not saying I always agreed to it. But you have to be willing to give if you want to get what you like in return.”

Jordan considered Sheris’s advice while Mel demanded exact details about costumes and props. What was it she really wanted? Sex, certainly. Affection and attention, of course. But more than anything, she wanted to feel burning desire and urgent need. She wanted to feel like she did two days ago.

Melanie was still pressing. “Well, how did you do it, Sheris? I mean, did you suggest it, or did the guys? And if it was you, how did you bring it up?”

“I don’t think I can.” Jordan shook her head. “What would I say? ‘Hi, honey. I made dinner reservations. And afterward, would you mind wearing this slave boy outfit I bought you?’ There’s no way!”

“That is more my style than yours.” Sheris grinned. “So don’t discuss it. Just arrange the setting for your favorite fantasy and surprise him one night. My point is, Jordan, if you want a more exciting love life, you have to lose the sweetness and discover the sweat.”

Jordan’s mind immediately returned to the faceless firefighter. Now there was a man who’d made her sweat. And moan. And climax within seconds of his touching her. She felt heated blood rushing to her cheeks—and other places—as she remembered how incredible he’d made her feel.

She’d never felt that way with David.

It was getting harder to ignore the crushing unhappiness that pervaded her nights. Ironically, she had discovered that being in a poor relationship was lonelier than being on her own. Being single didn’t feel as incomplete as having a lover she feared didn’t love her at all, one she’d struggled to love in return.

Time was running and only David could help her.

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