Come Away With Me(4)

By: Ruth Cardello

They both froze. His eyes lit with a fire that set her heart racing.

In the doorway, a male voice broke in. “Mr. Andrade. Are you okay? What happened?”

Julia put the lamp down quickly and swayed a bit beneath the realization of what she had just done. “Mr. Andrade. As in, George Andrade?”

Still looming angrily over her, he said, “Gio. No one calls me George.” He addressed Paul curtly. “She works here?”

“Yes, sir. For over a month.”

Glittering black eyes bored into Julia as she smiled awkwardly back at him. “I didn’t recognize you.”

“Evidently.” He rubbed the red mark on his left temple.

Paul stepped forward with concern. “I’m so sorry, sir. This is my fault. I ran next door to get medicine—”

Gio held up one hand to silence Paul, and the gesture proved impressively effective. In this jungle, money trumps muscle, Julia thought sarcastically. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Right now—”

Tomorrow. Tonight. Time. Crap. Julia glanced at the clock. Seven thirty. Shit. She turned apologetically to Paul. “Oh, my God, Paul. I am so sorry. I’ll take the heat for this. I promise. This was all my fault. Write it up however you need to. I would, but I can’t stay. I’m already late.”

She made the mistake of meeting the eyes of the man who still looked dazed from his encounter with the lamp. She instinctively reached toward his temple in sympathy, then dropped her hand. “I’m sorry. I should have studied the photo book Paul gave me better. It’s just that you were dressed like . . . and then you were all . . .” She frowned. “You could have just told me who you were and none of this would have happened, but we don’t have time to go into that now. Don’t be mad at Paul, okay? He has a stomach bug. But normally, he’d die to protect you. Who else can you say that about?” She glanced quickly at the clock again and said, “I totally understand if you need to fire me, but can you do it tomorrow?”

She turned and fled.

After her whirlwind departure, Gio looked across at Paul. “Just tell me you didn’t issue her a gun.”

Chapter Two

Julia stepped out of the taxi and onto the busy sidewalk in midtown Manhattan. She hesitated for a moment, reread the address she held in her hand, then squared her shoulders, shifted her jewelry-laden messenger bag higher on her shoulder, and strode toward the entrance of what appeared to be a bar.

A bar? And if the crowd in the windows was any indication, a popular one at that. Julia stepped inside and tried to remain optimistic. With a live band? New Yorkers play by their own rules. Who needs to discuss business in an office when you can do it and watch live entertainment at the same time? This doesn’t have to change anything. So, there won’t be room for me to use the mini display case I made. I’ll just show him individual pieces. The band began to play a fast song with a heavy bass line that virtually shook the photos hung on the wall. People stood shoulder to shoulder, and Julia squeezed between gyrating couples as she searched for a familiar face.

The scene was worlds away from the small ocean-town bars Julia was used to, but she didn’t let her determination waver. I’ll go to an office, to a bar . . . hell, I’ll meet someone in a back alley . . . I don’t care. I will sell my jewelry in New York. This crowd, that band—they won’t stop me.

A roving hand caressed her derriere as she squeezed between a cluster of inebriated men. She spun on the offender and grabbed him by the collar of his neck, pulling him down so she could speak directly into his ear. “I grew up in a neighborhood of all boys. I will seriously fuck you up if you touch me again.”

It wasn’t true, but it didn’t have to be. Not according to The Power of Believing, a book she had purchased to cheer herself up back in Rhode Island—a book that had changed her life. Want to succeed? Believe that you can. Want to intimidate someone? Believe that you are someone they should fear.

The drunken man took a step back and raised both of his hands in a move that showed he was backing away. That small triumph bolstered Julia’s confidence. I can do this.

As she turned away from Mr. Wandering Hands, she saw Bill Pritt waving her over to a corner booth. She slid into the booth next to him with relief.

Dressed in an off-the-rack suit and tie, Bill looked exactly as she remembered him from the day she’d met him: a slightly out-of-shape businessman in his early forties. They’d both been hailing taxis on Fifth Avenue and, when one came, he’d offered to share the ride with her. A quick look at his left hand revealed he was married, and that had given Julia the reassurance she needed to join him. While the taxi navigated the heavy traffic, he’d asked her what brought her to the Diamond District, and the story of why she’d come to New York had spilled out of her.

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