Passion on park avenue t.., p.8

Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact), page 8

 

Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact)
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  But they didn’t just have name-calling in their history. They also had a boy’s careless lie that had literally ruined lives.

  She wasn’t quite ready to forgive him for that, no matter how charming the man was. Or how handsome.

  If she were honest with herself, her irritation at his presence had been just as much directed at herself, for noticing the man. When she’d first come face-to-face with him at her co-op interview, she’d been too frazzled by his presence to properly register just how good-looking he was.

  But the other day, she’d noticed. She’d noticed the way he’d lost the soft edges of his boyish features. Noticed the way the nose that had been just slightly too long as a kid was now perfectly balanced by a strong jaw and a piercing gaze.

  Even his eyebrows were sexy. Straight and thick and dark, especially in contrast to the light blue eyes.

  Handsome though he was, she was a little surprised by just how reserved Oliver had become. The boy she remembered had been boisterous and rowdy, loving worms and sports and dirt.

  Adult Oliver looked like he wouldn’t be able to identify dirt if it hit him in the face (now, there was a tempting thought), and there was a coolness about him that she didn’t remember.

  Irritated with herself for dwelling on Oliver—again—Naomi stood and, putting her hands over her head, began stretching as she looked out at the rainy afternoon.

  Her new apartment had two bedrooms, and since she had no use for a guest room, she had plans to turn the second one into a home office. But the new furniture she’d ordered wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow, which meant she was working at her kitchen table.

  Deena had been right about the team loving the temporary “work from home” arrangement. During their usual Monday-morning conference call, Naomi had noted less makeup and more messy buns, and though everyone had put on business-appropriate attire on top, she wouldn’t be surprised to learn that below the camera’s view, everyone was in yoga pants.

  Or maybe that was just her.

  Still, luxurious as it was to not have to leave her home and commute to an office for the next few weeks, she was learning the hard way that her kitchen chair was not cut out for an almost-thirty butt and back to sit in for long amounts of time.

  Naomi pressed her fingers into her lower back, arching backward as she mentally began composing an email to a potential advertiser whose pushy tactics were starting to piss her off. She had just settled on her phrasing when she heard a commotion outside her front door.

  She ignored it at first. One of her neighbors had a bichon that delighted in getting out of the apartment and engaging in a five-minute battle of wills with its owner as it decided whether “a yummy, yummy doggy cookie” was incentive enough to go back home.

  But the sound kept on, and finally she registered that this was different. There was no quick little patter of tiny-dog feet or cajoling voice of the elderly owner promising chicken.

  This was more of a slow shuffle and occasional muttered oath.

  Naomi went to the door and checked the peephole. Nothing. Slowly she opened it and stepped into the hall, her eyes going wide in surprise at the source of the noise.

  An older man was wearing an expensive-looking sweater over what seemed to be a perfectly starched collared shirt.

  And on the bottom? Light blue boxers and argyle dress socks.

  Pants? Not present.

  She watched for a moment as he shuffled a few feet, paused. Pounded the wall lightly with his fist, then put his ear to the wall as though listening for something. He muttered something, then repeated the process.

  “Sir?” Naomi asked tentatively.

  He went still, then slowly turned on slightly unsteady feet to face her.

  Naomi gasped.

  She’d envisioned this moment dozens of times. Maybe hundreds of times. She’d pictured, in very vivid detail, the moment she’d come face-to-face with Walter Cunningham, the man who’d had an affair with her mother and then thrown her and her mother out on the streets like they were trash. Hell, he’d called them trash.

  She’d pictured entering his cushy downtown office, chin held high. She’d envisioned knocking on his door and him angrily asking who the hell she was, only to pass out in shock when she told him.

  She’d envisioned seeing him in a bar, buying him the most expensive Scotch on the menu, and then observing his surprise when he realized who’d just paid for his drink.

  There’d been a handful of more vindictive scenarios as well, but not one had come close to the reality of this.

  Naomi hadn’t expected him to recognize her on sight. He’d barely paid attention to her twenty years ago, and she was a far cry from her nine-year-old self. Her hair was several shades darker than the neon orange of her childhood. Her first “big” purchase once Maxcessory began to take off was braces, so her horribly crooked teeth were a thing of the past. She still wore glasses, but only at night and first thing in the morning. And even without all of that, she’d simply grown up.

  But while she hadn’t expected him to recognize her as his ex-lover’s daughter, Naomi hadn’t been prepared for the possibility that he perhaps didn’t recognize anyone.

  His gaze was vacant and confused, and though she wanted desperately to hate him—still did hate him on some level—her heart twisted a little in sympathy.

  The fog in his eyes cleared slightly, replaced with irritation. His hands went to his hips, thick brows drawn into a glower. It was a move that she remembered as being extremely intimidating when she’d accidentally knocked over a water glass as a girl. The effect was diminished now by the lack of pants.

  “May I help you, young lady?”

  Oh boy. Naomi was thoroughly out of her depth here. She hadn’t spent much time with senior citizens and certainly not with someone who she suspected was affected by dementia.

  Did she act like nothing was wrong? Did she take charge of the situation?

  She glanced at Oliver’s door, wondering if the man was home, though she suspected at one p.m. on a Monday, he was likely at work.

  “Are you looking for Oliver?” she asked tentatively.

  Walter Cunningham’s frown deepened, looking lost in thought. “Oliver . . .” His expression cleared slightly. “Oliver’s my son.”

  “Yes, and he lives right there,” she said tentatively as she stepped further into the hallway, pointing at Oliver’s door. “You were looking for him?”

  “No, I don’t think so,” Walter mused, glancing at the wall opposite Oliver’s door. “I thought I heard something. A person.”

  “In the walls?” Naomi asked, keeping her voice light.

  “Yes.”

  “It’s an old building. Perhaps the pipes?” she said, stepping even closer.

  “Perhaps, perhaps.” He knocked again, then seemed to lose interest in the walls altogether, turning toward her. “Who are you?”

  “My name’s Naomi. I just moved in,” she said, pointing to her open door.

  Walter frowned. “That’s Harriet’s place.”

  “Yes,” Naomi said, relieved that he was mentally present enough to know that much. The woman who’d just vacated Naomi’s apartment had indeed been named Harriet. “She moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to her daughter.”

  “Shame. Everyone’s leaving.” He looked at her sharply. “Have you seen my Margaret?”

  Margaret. His wife. His dead wife. There it was again. That twist of sympathy for a man she’d spent her entire life despising. She pursed her lips, now officially panicked. Did she tell him his wife had passed away? Or would that only confuse him further?

  “Do you live upstairs?”

  She’d kept tabs on the Cunninghams over the years, and was pretty sure they’d never moved, but she wasn’t positive.

  “Upstairs?” He frowned. He started to push past her. Not toward the stairs, but toward Naomi’s own apartment.

  “Would you like to come in?” she asked needlessly, since he was already entering her apartment. “
I could make us some coffee? Or tea?”

  She hoped he wouldn’t say tea. She didn’t drink the stuff and didn’t have any.

  “I’d take a whisky,” he was already saying, charging into her living room on steadier steps than before.

  A whisky? Oh dear.

  She followed him into her apartment, smiling a little as she saw him already settling on her couch, pulling one of her throw blankets over his lap and reaching for the remote. “Got any Scotch?”

  “Um, I’ll check,” she said, stalling for time.

  What now? Surely someone stayed with him during the day, but she didn’t want to leave him alone while she went up to his apartment to check. She didn’t have Oliver Cunningham’s phone number. She did have the number of Ms. Gromwell, the woman who’d facilitated the move-in process, but it didn’t feel right to call her about the Cunninghams’ personal business just yet.

  Wait! Didn’t the elderly sometimes wear those bracelets? The medical emergency kind, with a contact number?

  Walter’s thumb pressed the remote with deliberation, obviously looking for a specific channel. “Wish there was a day game today,” he muttered before stopping on the History Channel.

  “You like baseball?” Naomi asked casually, sitting beside him on the couch, her gaze scanning his wrists. She closed her eyes in relief when she saw the silver bracelet on his left wrist. It was stylish, compared to the flimsy one in her imagination, but she was pretty sure the red symbol was a medical indicator of some sort.

  “May I see your bracelet?” she asked with what she hoped was a calm, friendly smile.

  Not friendly enough, apparently. Walter snatched his hand away from her reach, giving her a suspicious look. “Who are you?”

  Naomi kept her smile in place as she repeated her introduction. “I’m Naomi, Mr. Cunningham.”

  He narrowed his eyes and studied her. “I know you?”

  In ways you can’t even imagine.

  “We’re friends,” she lied smoothly, because he was starting to look a little bit scared beneath his defiance. “I was hoping to look at your bracelet.”

  He pulled his arm even further out of reach, his agitation increasing along with his suspicion.

  Inspiration struck.

  “Did you know I run an accessory business?” she asked, pretending to lose interest in seeing his bracelet and pulling her legs beneath her on the couch.

  “A business?” His gaze sharpened with alertness, and she saw a flash of the cutthroat Walter Cunningham of her memories.

  She nodded. “I started it myself. It’s called Maxcessory, and it’s a subscription model. Members pay an annual fee to receive a box of accessories selected for them every month. Earrings, bracelets, necklaces. Sometimes a scarf or sunglasses.”

  “Feminine trinkets.”

  Naomi couldn’t help the quick laugh at the description. It was such an old-fashioned male thing to say, and yet his tone hadn’t been disparaging so much as trying to understand.

  “Most of our members are women,” she admitted. “But last year we introduced an option for men as well. Cuff links, belts, pocket squares. We’ve seen some tremendous growth.”

  He seemed to think this over. “You should put some suspenders into the mix. I can’t find any good ones these days.”

  “I’ll mention it to the team,” Naomi assured him. And she would, because she kept promises, though she was fairly sure suspenders were too niche a market for Maxcessory’s average customer.

  She continued, keeping her voice casual and calm. “I don’t know if I have any of my male accessories here in my home office, but would you like to see what we’re sending out to the women?”

  Walter looked unconvinced. “You make a profit from this?”

  Naomi named Maxcessory’s astronomically high revenue from the previous year, and Walter’s bushy eyebrows went up. “All right. I’d like to take a look. I used to invest in businesses, you know.”

  She did know, but his investment money, whether real or imagined given his current state, wasn’t her goal.

  Naomi went into her office. She didn’t have her desk furniture yet, but she had organized her inventory as best she could in boxes along the wall. She picked an assortment of items with emphasis on one type of jewelry in particular.

  Returning to the living room, she laid out the pieces on the coffee table, and Walter scooted forward on the couch to take a look. He patted his right breast pocket where she imagined he often kept readers. “Damn,” he muttered. “Forgot my glasses.”

  He made do by bringing the pieces extremely close to his face, studying each item with more interest than she’d have expected, given they were all “feminine trinkets.”

  “Quality seems pretty good,” he admitted.

  “Yes, I’m keeping an eye out for high-quality products that can easily be scaled, since we need thousands of each piece. It’s why I was so interested in your bracelet,” she said offhandedly. “It’s a bad habit of mine, studying just about any piece of jewelry I can get my hands on.”

  He stared at his wrist for a moment, as though surprised to see the bracelet there. Then he shrugged. “It’s better than the last one they gave me. Nicer. Good metal, see?”

  She closed her eyes in relief when she saw him reach for the clasp.

  “You need any help?” she asked. “Bracelets are always hard to get on and off yourself with one hand.”

  Wordlessly, he extended his wrist to her, and Naomi’s fingers quickly found the fastener and removed it before he could change his mind again.

  In the blink of an eye, Walter’s attention had shifted away from her and the jewelry, and back to the TV, where the monotone narrator was describing the gruesome details of a World War I battle.

  Naomi looked down at the bracelet.

  Walter had been correct—the bracelet itself was nice. Lovely for a men’s piece, with thick metal and excellent craftsmanship on the links.

  The placard though . . .

  Even though she’d had a good sense of what she’d see there, the top two lines of inscription still caused a pang of sadness.

  Walter Cunningham. Alzheimer’s.

  She exhaled.

  Below that was a name and phone number.

  With a quick glance to see that Walter wouldn’t freak out on her, she stood and went to the counter where she’d plugged in her cell phone.

  “You got any Scotch?” Walter asked again, without turning around.

  “I’ll look in a minute,” she said as she punched in the phone number on Walter’s bracelet, and with one eye on the back of Walter’s gray head, she lifted the phone to her ear as it began to ring.

  MONDAY, OCTOBER 8

  It wasn’t the first time that Janice had called him to calmly and apologetically inform him that his father had gotten out of the house, but those bad-news phone calls never got any easier to hear.

  Oliver bit the inside of his cheek to keep from shouting at the cab driver to go faster. It wasn’t the driver’s fault that Manhattan traffic generally sucked. It wasn’t the driver’s fault that his father had wandered out of the house.

  It wasn’t even Janice’s fault. She’d apologized profusely, but he knew all too well it was a risk of having one person alone caring for this father. The woman had to use the restroom at some point, and she couldn’t very well lock his father up while she did so. And considering Walter often went from happily eating his hard-boiled eggs to deciding to take himself for a walk within five seconds . . .

  Oliver only hoped his father hadn’t wandered far. Most often he went to one of the neighbors’ on their floor, or to Oliver’s apartment. Janice had checked all the usual places, and then went to look at the more alarming option: Central Park.

  Ironically, his father had always refused Oliver’s childhood begging to go to the park to throw a ball around, but in his current state, he loved the park. Trouble was, Central Park was several hundred acres. Walter didn’t move very fast, but it was a hell of a lot of sp
ace when trying to locate one man.

  Oliver was stopped at a traffic light two blocks from his apartment, debating whether it would be faster to get out and walk the remainder, when his cell rang.

  It was an unfamiliar number, but Oliver answered without hesitation, even as he braced for bad news.

  His tone was curt. “Oliver Cunningham.”

  “Oliver, hi.”

  He frowned. The voice was female and husky. Distinctly so. “Naomi?”

  “Yeah. Hi. Um, well, okay, no non-awkward way to say this . . . I have your father here?”

  His hand fell away from the door handle of the cab, his body slumping back in relief. “Here? As in, he’s at your apartment?”

  “Yep. I found him wandering the hall outside your door. He’s okay,” she said softly, anticipating his next question. “He’s watching TV and demanding Scotch?”

  Oliver smiled slightly. Counterintuitively, Scotch days were good days in Walter Cunningham’s world. A connection to his old self who had an affinity for Macallan.

  “Don’t judge me for asking,” Naomi said slowly, “but can he?”

  “Can he what?” Oliver asked, fishing a few bills out of his wallet and handing them to the cab driver. He exited the taxi without waiting for change.

  “I have some Scotch . . .” She trailed off.

  His relief at knowing his father was safe and warm instead of lost in the city was settling in now, and Oliver grinned as he stepped out onto the sidewalk. “Ms. Powell. Are you suggesting giving my sick father alcohol in the middle of the afternoon?”

  “Right,” she said quickly. “Forget it. I don’t know what—”

  “A finger with ice with a splash of water. A big splash. He’ll fuss, but if you tell him it’s that or nothing, he’ll settle down.”

  There was a moment of hesitation. “Really?”

  “Really,” Oliver assured her. “Listen, his caretaker’s still out looking for him. I need to give her a call. But I’ll be there in just a couple minutes. You okay until then?”

  “We’re fine.”

  “Good. Thank you. See you in a few.”

  He hung up the phone and immediately called Janice, who picked up on the first ring, a little breathless. “You find him?”

 
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