Angela Donnelly raised her face to the rain. The water stung her eyes, but she blinked through it and fought back tears. The lights of Manhattan towered high above her, drifting endlessly toward a black sky.
The rain and the bone-rattling chill were drastically different from the place she had just left. The harsh reality of nature and the splatter of passing cars were a welcomed change to the soft melodies and gentle light of the restaurant. This cold tempest suited her mood better, she mused as she lifted a hand to hail a cab and the wind whipped around her legs.
She braced as a cab pulled up to the curb and splashed water over her shoes and pant legs. Water dripped off her ruined suit and onto the vinyl seat as she slid into the back, the delicate fabric clinging to her legs. She yanked the door shut.
“Where to?” The driver snapped.
“Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street.”
“What you doin’ out without a umbrella?” He shook his head and maneuvered into traffic.
Angela back leaned against the seat and watched the rain bead up on the window and then wash away in rivulets. “Oh, is it raining?” she quipped. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, you got my cab wet.” He glanced back with a smirk. “Should ring out before you get in my cab.”
She was certain her mascara was streaked down her cheeks, no doubt made all the more pathetic by her pale skin and long rain-matted hair. She could let the tears fall and no one would notice; she was already a mess. But she stiffened and raised her chin. “I’m on tenth, just east of fifth. It’ll be the fourth brownstone on the right.”
The rain came down harder as the driver made his way across town. When he pulled up to the curb Angela hurried out of the cab and up the stone steps of her Greenwich Village walkup. She fumbled with the key, her fingers frozen and numb, and then rushed inside. The outside lamps cast flickering shadows across the small lobby, mottled by rain drops falling on the glass door. She inhaled the scent of wet brick and her own perfume and tried to shake off the feeling of the walls closing in on her.
She had lived in a similar walkup when she had majored in business at New York University. Five girls crammed into two rooms, all writers and artists. Angela had been the odd woman out. She preferred working with numbers and market predictions over discussing the works of Hemingway and Van Gogh; the logical over the whimsical.
Her contract with Sykes and Steeple Investments included an apartment of her choice. The same day she had received her first paycheck she had paid for her first tailored suit and moved into this apartment. She could have chosen one on the Upper West Side, or midtown overlooking the lights and movement, but she liked Greenwich Village with its tree-lined streets and Sunday morning farmers’ market.
Angela’s paychecks had grown through the years, but not nearly as quickly as she had hoped. Her diet consisted mostly of yogurt and overripe fruit. She justified her only luxury – a closet full of expensive suits – by thinking of it as an investment. But in spite of her budding career as a business analyst, she was beginning to think the predictions she had made about her own life were destined to always fall flat. Someday might never come, regardless of her ability to predict market fluctuations almost as well as she could predict the next train.
Sometimes the cost wasn’t worth the payoff.
She retrieved her mail from the brass box and hurried up the stairs, her stocking feet sloshing inside her shoes.
Men like her last client were not all that hard to come by. Her life had amounted to a compilation of shady business and even shadier men. All she had to show for it was the anticipation of an evening spent with cheap wine in a vain attempt to pretend that mountain of regret did not exist.
Angela pushed wet hair off her shoulder and slid her key into the lock. The doorknob turned too easily. The door was unlocked. She pushed it open and walked through the small foyer and into the living room. Jeffrey Sykes sat on her sofa.
The low melody of a saxophone streamed from the digital player on her bookshelf. In contrast to the heated thoughts screaming in her head, the room was warm, the music quiet. The patter of rain on the roof and windows the only other sounds. Jeffrey had lit one dim lamp so that it illuminated him from an angle, casting shadows across his face. The glass he held caught a glare from the light. Angela recognized it as one of the glasses from the set he had bought her during their trip to Vermont last fall.
“Breaking and entering.” Angela flicked off the music. “I wouldn’t think you capable of it.”
Jeffrey sipped his wine, standing only after he had taken a moment to savor the taste. The handsome lines of his olive-toned face and the contrast of his dark hair and blue eyes were more pronounced in the low light. He demonstrated knowledge of that fact by eyeing her across the bridge of his nose. His position as Senior Analyst and Partner at Sykes and Steeple Investments warned her to tread carefully, but the true threat came from that familiar stab of physical desire.
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Heart of Grace is available in print and Kindle formats.