Colbie found it odd that Elle gave the key to Spence. What did he have to do with the rentals if she was the building’s general manager?
“Let’s go see the apartment,” Spence said, standing, dropping some cash onto the bar.
“Oh,” Colbie said, opening her purse, shoving aside some notes to look for her wallet. “Let me—”
Spence put a big warm hand over hers. “I’ve got it.”
“I appreciate it,” she said. “But I have this thing.” She met his gaze. “I don’t let men pay for my food, because then . . .” She broke off and shook her head. Because then they thought she owed them. Maybe that had been just Jackson, but the memory of how badly she’d misread that situation was sobering and she intended to stand by her resolve.
“Because then . . .?” Spence pressed.
“I just don’t like to owe anyone.”
“Okay, how about this,” he said. “Since you’re going to be around for a few weeks, you can get the next round of chicken wings and zucchini chips. Can you handle that?”
She considered it. Surely she could find him during her three-week stay and make sure she repaid the favor by feeding him at least once. “I suppose so, yes.”
He smiled at her.
Elle, looking annoyed, led the way, her heels clicking, clicking, clicking as they walked back through the courtyard, which was so cute and charming that Colbie couldn’t wait to grab her laptop and sit on one of the wrought-iron benches and write, a thought that had her heart pumping.
She wanted to write! That was a good sign.
“It’s a studio,” Elle warned her on the third floor, just outside the front door. “So it’s small.”
“Small is fine,” Colbie said. “Thank you so much.”
Before Elle could unlock the door, an old woman poked her head out of the apartment across the way. “What’s going on out here?” she wanted to know.
Elle waved at her. “Hi, Mrs. Winslow. We’re just showing the apartment to a possible new tenant, that’s all.”
Mrs. Winslow cupped a hand to her ear. “What’s that?”
Elle raised her voice. “You might be getting a new neighbor!”
“ ’Bout time. Is he a young hottie?”
“Well . . .” Elle looked like maybe she was trying to hold back a smile.
“It’s okay if he isn’t young. A silver-fox hottie would probably be just as good. I guess age don’t matter too much, as long as he’s still got what it takes.” She looked Spence up and down. “Is it you, Spencie? Because I could totally handle you.”
To his credit, Spence just smiled. “You think so?”
“I know so,” Mrs. Winslow said smugly and then ruined it by hiccuping and giving them all a whiff of whiskey.
Spence looked pained. “Do you remember what we said about alcohol?”
“Yes.” She beamed. “That the Jack mixes with everything but good decisions. Don’t worry though—I never mix the two.”
Elle snorted and opened the door. “Take care, Mrs. Winslow.”
When they were inside with the door shut, Elle shook her head at Spence. “You shouldn’t encourage her.”
“She’s still mourning.”
“I know. And I also know that you’re bringing her food and taking care of her. It’d be incredibly sweet if I didn’t also know you were the one who got her ‘the Jack.’ ”
“It was what her husband used to drink,” he said. “She’s having a hard time. So I bring her stuff.”
Okay, so the guy saved people from the fountains and old ladies from grief. He seemed too good to be true, which—in Colbie’s experience—meant he wasn’t to be trusted. She needed to remember that when he looked at her with those startlingly clear eyes.
Shaking that off, she took in the place. It was small but also . . . cozy. The furniture was sparse but nice. Really nice. The bed looked brand-new, and sitting on top of the mattress was an unopened set of good-quality sheets and a pair of down pillows. A bar-top counter divided the kitchen from the living area, and there was a dumbwaiter that fascinated her and . . .
A black cat.
“That’s the cat who spooked Daisy Duke into charging Colbie,” Spence said. “It must’ve come up on the fire escape.” He headed to the opened kitchen window to check it out. “Do you know who it belongs to, Elle?”
“No. I’ve never seen it before.”
“I’ll get it and take it outside—” Spence broke off when he turned back around and found Colbie holding the cat.
“It’s a she,” she said, hugging the poor thing. “And she’s so thin and gangly that I think she’s just a teenager.”
Elle shook her head. “Don’t worry. She’s not your responsibility—”
“Oh, she’s totally welcome to share the place with me,” Colbie said and, still holding the cat, walked across the floor.
She looked out the window and took in the view. God, the view. She couldn’t wait to get out there, to listen to tidbits of conversation as people walked by, letting it all stoke the flames of her imagination as she wrote.
It was such an ache that she nuzzled the cat to hide the fact that her eyes were burning with relief.
She really had done the right thing by coming here.
“So what do you think?” Elle asked.
“Are you kidding? I love it. I’ll take it.” Colbie took a peek in the bathroom. Catching a glimpse of herself and the black cat in the mirror, she smiled.
The cat stared at her, not unfriendly but not exactly ready to be besties either. “It’s okay,” Colbie told her. “I’ll grow on you.” She moved to leave the bathroom but stopped when she heard Elle talking.
“She didn’t even ask how much.”
“So?” Spence asked.
“So, you don’t think that’s . . . weird?”
Colbie—and the cat—walked into the room and looked at Elle. “How much?”
Elle had the good grace to grimace. “Okay, maybe I’m a little overprotective.”
“I get it,” Colbie said. “I’m the same. So really . . . how much? And do you want me to fill out an application?”
“Yes.” Elle pulled an app from her purse and named the price.
Colbie nodded. “I’ll fill this out and bring it to you with the cash for the month’s rent right away.”
“It’s getting late. In the morning will be fine,” Elle said. “And you don’t need to pay in cash. You can pay through an app or with a check.”
Colbie wasn’t ready for her world to track her. She’d brought cash. “Is cash a problem?”
Elle slid Spence a look, sighed, and shook her head. “No problem.”
Later Colbie got in her bed. The black cat had come and gone a few times. Worried about her, Colbie had left the window open just wide enough for her to seek shelter if she needed. Then she lay in bed in the dark thinking about her crazy day. Crazy but good, she decided. Shockingly good.
But that was because she hadn’t yet looked at her phone. Remembering, she got out of bed and fished the bag of rice from her purse. She pulled out the phone and turned it on.
Notifications began to fill her screen. She chose to start with a group text with her assistant, Tracy, and publicist, Janeen.
Hey, Editorial wants to know your projected delivery date for the manuscript.
Whoa, hold up there, missy. First I want to know Colbie’s projected delivery date for the articles and blogs she’s supposed to write for promo.
Don’t make me sorry I put you on this convo, Janeen. Colbs—I didn’t tell Editorial that you ran away from home to find yourself, because I didn’t want to set off a panic avalanche. Why should everyone panic when I’m doing enough for all of us?
P.S. At least tell me you’re on a warm beach somewhere with a really hot cabana dude pouring you wine?