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Contemporary Romance Author

Madelaine Grant

  Dream With Me


 “Sorry, Miss Peterson. That apartment is not available.” David Engel’s tone was decisive and cool. “In fact, there’s a long waiting list.”

 He waited for a reaction from the young woman standing at the entrance to his office. It was ten minutes to six. She’d probably rushed to get there before he closed at six. But that was her problem, he reminded himself. Besides, there was no way he’d consider renting the third-floor studio to her when he planned on occupying the two-bedroom unit on that same floor. Too much of a distraction. He walked around his desk and, standing in front of it, he leaned back, folding his arms over his chest. Hoping to intimidate her, he stared directly into her eyes.

 The sting of David’s sharp words almost made Lindsey gasp with astonishment. But she restrained herself. Keeping a neutral expression and quiet tone she said, “Your assistant showed me the studio earlier today. She didn’t mention anything about a waiting list. In fact she suggested I stop by later to discuss my application with you. Has there been a change in the past few hours?” She didn’t think there had been but was interested in his response. She wanted that apartment and would do most anything to obtain it. The space was amazing. Just what she needed at this stage in her life. She had to keep that fact firmly in mind and not let any trace of annoyance show.

 “Margaret was misinformed then,” he said coolly. His eyes made a careful assessment from the top of her head with its thick chestnut hair framing her face, down her slender figure garbed in a simple denim sundress, to her sandal-clad feet. A canvas handbag with leather straps was draped over one shoulder. She probably still wore that long braid down her back. Not much had changed in eight years. “I have nothing more to say about this situation.” Hopefully she’d leave and try to rent somewhere else. If he remembered correctly, she’d been pretty obstinate about what she wanted.

 Lindsey took a few measured steps closer to him. No way was she giving up the fight. “Did you design that studio? If you did, it’s a marvel of innovation.” She waited a moment to allow her words to sink in. “I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of apartment-hunting. You’ve managed to place everything necessary for an elegant life-style in a small amount of space. Plus there’s an extraordinary view from every window. I understand you plan to develop the back area into an outdoor garden and picnic space for your tenants. That’s astonishing in itself.” She paused and watched his expression soften just a little.

 “There’s no reason why urban dwellers can’t have fresh produce at their fingertips. Besides it’s therapeutic to garden.” It certainly worked for him. The rooftop garden now in the works would be his own personal space to relax. After a busy day renovating half a dozen buildings in Brooklyn alone, he’d need the quiet of a leafy retreat. But she didn’t have to know anything about that.

 “I didn’t know you’d gone into architecture,” she commented. “Last I remember you were on a different path.” He’d changed. He was much taller and his shoulders looked broader. He still wore his dark hair long, not quite as long as in high school..

 “Nothing stays the same. I see you’ve strayed from your fixation with running a dance company. Now you’re grooming dogs. Quite a switch, I’d say.”

 She heard the sarcasm in his voice but refused to allow his words to thwart her plans. She had to obtain that studio. “I still teach and train with a small group of dancers. We perform at local venues, actually anything within a fifty-mile radius. Traveling constantly takes its toll. I prefer to remain local.” She lifted her head a notch as if to emphasize she hadn’t given up her dreams, only changed direction.

 He could tell she’d dug in her heels. She had that stubborn look he remembered. “Lindsey, to be perfectly frank, you don’t meet the income level to rent that studio or any other apartment in this building. Why don’t you try renting a room in a private home? Much cheaper and probably within your budget. I can’t allow anyone to take an apartment here unless they’re earning enough to keep it up. Evictions are costly and take time. I don’t need those kinds of headaches.” He’d been honest and upfront with her. Would she take the hint and disappear?

 At least he was using her first name. That was progress, she thought. “I earn a decent salary at my dog-grooming job. My aunt and uncle own the place so there’s no problem with keeping it. I also have income from teaching six classes a week besides the performance fees. I’d have no trouble paying the rent you’re asking.” It would be a stretch but he didn’t have to know that. She could cut corners on food and things that were not absolutely necessary.

 He looked skeptical, then reached behind him for the folder on his desk and opened it. “I have your last year’s earnings and frankly, I can’t see you managing to meet a monthly rental like that. You’d have little left over for everyday expenses. Unless you’ve a hidden source of income you haven’t revealed.” He raised his eyebrows with an expectant air.

 Before she could answer, his phone rang. Walking back around his desk he picked it up. “Dazen Construction, David speaking.” He listened intently for a few moments. “Andy, I don’t think tonight is possible. I’ve tons of work to do.” A few moments passed as he listened to his friend’s ideas for the evening ahead. At one point he turned in Lindsey’s direction with a thoughtful expression. He couldn’t believe he was even considering such an idea. But as he continued to assess the situation, it did make some kind of weird sense. “Okay, let me see if I can manage something at the last moment. I didn’t know Jason was in town and can join us. I’ll call you later.”

 Disconnecting the call he sat down behind his desk. “Lindsey, I have a request to make.” He gestured to a chair nearby. “Sit down a moment and I’ll explain.” He watched as she cautiously did as he asked. She looked uneasy, which pleased him. Better to have her off balance. Gave him an edge, and with Lin, any edge he could get was a victory.

 “Believe it or not, I’m part of a band which meets informally every now and then. One of the band members just called. We’re meeting tonight around eight. I’d like to have you join me there for a few hours.” Andy mentioned that Margo was planning to attend. He’d dated her briefly. Although she was a very attractive woman and eager to be with him, he didn’t match her enthusiasm. Something about her was annoying but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what that was.

 This was a pleasant change, she thought, appraising his now-friendly expression. “I don’t understand why you want me to come along but I’m not going to question things.” Eying her casual appearance and then assessing David’s dark trousers and white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, she added, “I’ll probably have to change into something more appropriate.”

 “We have time. Andy’s place isn’t far. I have clothes here and can drive you to your place. Where do you live?” Hopefully nearby.

 “A few blocks east of this building. I walk by it when I food shop.” She’d been watching the renovation for months. The sign outside mentioned Dazen Construction but she never connected it to David Engel until that morning.

 “Give me a few moments then and I’ll change.” He rose and headed out of the room. Besides the office there was a bedroom and bath. When the building was complete he would redo the apartment and rent it to his office assistant, Margaret Foster. He’d offered her a reduced rent in return for a few hours of apartment-related chores.

 While she waited for David, Lin thought about the sudden change in his attitude. What had caused it? Something in the conversation with his friend must have triggered his turn-around. She couldn’t understand what it was, but she was grateful. For a few moments she allowed herself to imagine living in that third-floor studio space. The bathroom was a marvel of luxury from the whirlpool tub to the glassed-in shower. She’d never seen anything like it except in luxury homes. The added space next to the bathroom had its own section for a washer and dryer, a dressing area with a full-length mirror plus an enormous walk-in closet. The kitchen had stainless steel appliances, cherry-wood cabinets and an island with comfortable stools for quick bites. There was even a breakfast nook next to a large window overlooking a stand of maple trees. The main room was spacious with immense expanses of windows facing the side of the building. She could visualize a futon on one wall which would turn into a comfortable bed for sleeping. The hardwood floors were perfect for executing dance movements allowing her to choreograph easily in her own space.

 Sighing, Lin came back to reality. It would be an uphill battle to get that apartment, but she was determined to try.

When David came back into the office he wore khaki shorts and a black tee shirt. Seeing him this way jolted Lin into memories of their long-ago high school days when he was either in well-worn jeans or cargo pants. “If you’re wearing shorts, my outfit is too dressy,” she exclaimed.

 Chuckling, he walked over and said, “I think you’re right. This Indian summer weather is unexpected but wonderful. We don’t need to stop at your place after all. But I do need my guitar so we’ll head to my house and I’ll pick it up. By the way, Andy is providing pizza and salad for dinner.”

 “Nice of him,” she replied. At least she’d get a free meal.

 Driving in David’s low-slung black BMW sports car, Lin was tempted to ask about his business interests. Evidently he’d done well for himself. But she held her tongue. The only thing she wanted from him was that studio. There was no need to pry into his personal affairs.

 They reached a row of brownstones in an upscale part of the borough. David came to a halt in front of a three-story house with a black wrought iron fence around a small patch of garden. “Here we are,” he said, exiting the car and coming around to her side. “I’ll only be a minute. Do you want to wait here?”

 Lin sensed he’d prefer it that way, which was fine with her. “That’s okay.” Maybe he had a girlfriend stashed somewhere or evidence of a live-in someone. Which didn’t bother her one bit, she assured herself.

 When David reappeared he brought with him not only his guitar but a Congo drum. “Sometimes people sit in with us,” he told her as he placed the instruments on the back seat.

 While they drove to Andy’s house David filled her in on the other musicians who would be there. “Most of the guys are professionals in other fields but love music. For instance, Andy Layman is an orthopedic surgeon and Jason Alpert is a lawyer. We’ll be joined by a dentist and an accountant. Quite a bunch,” he said, laughing. “We’ll also have a couple of groupies in the audience. We’ve been playing together the last six years and, surprisingly, acquired a reputation. We’ve even opened for some name musicians who come to town.”

 That didn’t surprise Lin. She’d known he was a very talented performer, whether acting, directing or even choreographing a musical. Why he hadn’t continued in that direction was the question she’d love to ask him. But she kept her mouth shut. No point in opening doors that were best kept closed.

 When they reached his friend’s home, he pulled into the wide driveway and shut off the ignition. “Andy has a three-car garage. He had a partition put up and our group plays in one section. He had the place soundproofed so neighbors wouldn’t bitch.” He exited the car and brought out the guitar and drum. “Here, you can handle the drum.” He handed it to her.

 “Do I get to play it?” she quipped.

 “Do you want to?”

 She shrugged. “Why not? I’ve used rhythm instruments before.”

 Lin had the most extraordinary gray-blue eyes, he thought, gazing down at her. They regarded him now with the same intensity and innocence he’d always remembered. Stop it, he reminded himself. She’s not so innocent.

 The garage door opened and a man appeared. “David, you made it here early.” Garbed in cut-off jeans and a gray tank top, he walked over to them and smiled at Lin. “You must be Lindsey. Nice to meet you. I’m Andy, the best piano player in the neighborhood.” He started laughing as he held out a hand.

 She smiled back and shook his hand. This was an unexpected beginning. She’d wondered about his friends and their reception of her.

 “C’mon in,” Andy said, walking back inside the garage. “You’re the first to arrive. I’m just putting out chairs for our audience.” Turning to look at David, he added, “Jason’s bringing a few people with him and Margo always drags in several friends. I’m betting on at least two dozen in the audience.”

 The garage had been totally renovated to resemble a small performance space. There was a stage area with a piano at one end, professional lighting and comfortable folding chairs set up. To one side a long table already held a stack of paper plates, silverware, and napkins.

 “I ordered pizzas and salad which will be delivered at seven thirty,” Andy announced. “If we run out, they’re a very obliging pizza place and can hustle over more stuff.” Turning to David, he said, “Let’s set up the lights before the others arrive.” He took the drum from Lin and brought it onto the small stage. David followed with his guitar in hand.

 The next half hour was spent focusing the lights, checking the speakers and mikes, and moving chairs around. This routine was so familiar, Lin thought, watching the two men work together. Before every dress rehearsal or performance, this same routine was followed. With her dance troupe the floor had to be in perfect condition. Musical performances were different. The lighting was important but also the audio equipment needed to be checked. A spurt of nostalgia enveloped her as she gazed at the scene. She pushed it away, reminding herself to concentrate on her immediate objective: getting that studio. Memories could wait.

 Before long, three other musicians showed up. Mark Laine entered carrying his saxophone accompanied by Eddie Williams with a set of drums. Jason Alpert came a few moments later carrying his stand-up bass. Andy sat down at the keyboard and tried out a few chords. “Do we need to rehearse or should we fake it?” He looked at the others.

 David laughed and shook his head. “We always fake it. Why change a good thing?”

 At exactly seven thirty the pizza delivery truck pulled in. A few guests had arrived and joined the group hovering around the food table. The door from the house to the garage opened and an attractive blond-haired woman joined them.

 “Hi, Clare. I wondered when you’d make your entrance,” David said, walking over to give her a kiss on her cheek.

 “Well I heard the pizza truck pull in so I figured I’d join you.” She batted big brown eyes at him.

 “Clare, I want you to meet a friend of mine.” He turned and waved Lin over. “Lindsey, this is Andy’s wife, Clare.”

 “Nice to meet you,” Clare said politely.

 Something about the woman’s expression seemed reserved, Lin thought. She noted the thorough assessing glance Clare gave her. “Nice to meet you, too.” Lin retreated to the chair she’d chosen near the stage. She watched as Andy’s wife walked about chatting and greeting the musicians and several guests who’d arrived. When a group of half a dozen women came in, Clare immediately rushed toward them. These must be special friends, Lin surmised.

 David turned to the new arrivals with a bemused expression. There was Margo wearing a very short, tight black skirt and a midriff-baring red top. She waved at him with a cheesy smile. With her were several other women, probably from her design firm. He couldn’t just ignore her given their history so he waved back. Perhaps he’d be lucky and she’d turn her attentions elsewhere. Just to be sure, he made a point of joining Lin for a few moments, putting his arm around her shoulders while he whispered something in her ear. What he said wasn’t important. He wanted Margo to sense the intimacy in his gesture and back off..

 “Folks,” Andy called out, “it’s time for pizza. There’s an ice chest with drinks at one end. Help yourself.” With that dinner was served.

 Lin was grateful David sat next to her while they ate dinner. He also introduced her to the other musicians and to some of the guests. That was considerate, she thought.

 “Hey, David.” Eddie came by to chat. “This our new singer?” He gave Lin an appreciative glance.

 “Not really,” David began. Then he narrowed his gaze. “But she can sing. I can vouch for that.”

 “Really?” Eddie looked fascinated. “Why don’t we try her out on one of our slower tunes? We could use a good vocalist now and then. Add some spice to the group.”

 “Would you mind?” David asked Lin. Why hadn’t he thought of that?

 She shrugged. “If you think I’d fit in. I haven’t done much singing in the past few years. I might be a bit rusty.”

 “Only one way to find out,” he replied. “I’ll let you know when to join us.”

 It was settled. Lin wasn’t sure how she felt about that. David was taking some things for granted. But if she wanted that studio, she’d better do as he asked.