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Chapter Three

Emma shut her cell phone off, glared at it, then turned it back on again, threw it on her bed, and blew out a breath of exasperation.

Why, oh why, had she said that Russ's friend could call her?

The prospect of turning Kevin down made her sweat each time the phone rang. Rejection was crushing on the receiving end, but it was little better for the one who rejected.

Would she have been so quick to reject Kevin if she hadn't seen him standing next to Russell Carrick, looking like a poor shadow? Looking smaller, clumsier, less confident, like an adolescent instead of a fully grown man?

Or maybe she would have thought Kevin a potential boyfriend if she hadn't spent five minutes talking to Russ on the phone, enjoying the sound of his deep voice. If she hadn't heard him be more expansive than on the stiff tour of his house. If he hadn't sounded a little sad, hadn't shown a hint of humor, hadn't so obviously been trying to protect both Kevin's and her feelings.

Ah Foolishness, thy name is Woman. Witness her initial thought that Russ had called to ask her out.

And foolish she still was, because what had she been doing all evening except looking up Russ Carrick on the Internet?

She almost wished she hadn't. It wasn't as much fun to fantasize about a man who was the primary shareholder of a company listed on the NASDAQ at $150 a share. It put him at a far different stage in his life than she was; far different than she'd ever be. She didn't want to ride on a man's coattails of financial success, or to feel inferior to him based on her earnings.

And then there'd been the article about his brother's death. She knew something of bereavement from her childhood, when her father had died of a heart attack, and from her teen years, when her grandmother had died. Memories of those feelings didn't give her any clue of what to say to someone else experiencing grief, though: all she knew was that there were no words of comfort.

She didn't know how to relate to a man like Russ Carrick. She didn't know how to read him. Didn't know how to anticipate his reactions like she would with a gooberish boy her own age.

Still, he had a nice ass. And she liked his voice. His eyes. The width of his shoulders

God, she'd love to have him pin her naked beneath him and-

"Hey, Ems, whatcha doing?" her roommate, Daphne, said, sticking her head inside Emma's open doorway.

"Nothing! Just thinking."

Daphne came in and sat on the edge of the bed. Her highlighted blond hair looked freshly flatironed and sprayed, her eye makeup set to "evening." She was wearing a turquoise silk halter top and gold hoop earrings. "You're always thinking. Give it a rest, and come out with me and Derek."

Emma grimaced. "And be the third wheel? No thanks."

"We're meeting Josie and Ken at the Palomino bar, then going dancing. Come on, you might have fun!"

"I'd really rather not. I want to keep studying the building codes." She patted the fat binder on her desk.

Daphne blew a raspberry. "You never go out. How are you going to meet someone if you never go out?"

"I don't want to meet someone right now. I've got other things to worry about, like finding a real job."

Daphne rolled her eyes. "You're not going to miss out on a job opportunity by going out for one night."

"It's just not my cup of tea."

She shrugged and got up. "Have it your way. But socializing is good for job seekers, you know. Friends hooking you up with friends of friends who know the right people."

"I'd love to schmooze my way into a job, but I'm no good at schmoozing, so why try? I have more faith in presenting a solid knowledge of building codes."

"You don't give yourself enough credit. My friends all think you're charming. You could schmooze with the best."

Emma perked up. "Who thinks I'm charming?"

"All of them! And they don't understand why you stay home every night."

Emma gave her a suspicious look. "I seriously doubt they spare a moment's thought for me."

Daphne grinned. "Some of the guys do, believe me."

"Mmm." Emma tried to sound uncaring but she was flattered, and it prompted her to share, "Someone asked for my number today."

Daphne plopped back down on the bed. "Yeah? Who?"

Emma shrugged. "An older guy, kind of geeky."

Daphne wrinkled her nose. "Oh. Are you going to go out with him?"

"I don't know."

"What type of car does he drive?"

Emma laughed. "A new Jaguar. He'd be glad to know you asked."

"It's a valid question! You can tell a lot about a person by their car."

"Can you?" she said, thinking of Russ's hybrid.

"Well, not about you" Daphne said, waving away the comment. "A case of false advertising, there."

Emma had bought her souped-up Honda from her brother, whose pregnant wife had demanded that the street racer be put out to pasture. It was a difficult and ornery car, with stiff shocks, a primer-coated hood and fender, and a frightening red button on the shift for setting off the nitrous system power booster. Emma expected that someday the car would run off with her like a spooked racehorse.

Daphne added, "But I've always wondered if there's a secret wild side to you."

"I doubt it," Emma said, with less than the ring of truth. She was too sensible to act on the impulses for spontaneous lunacy that sometimes swept over her.

Daphne nodded knowingly, eyes narrowing. "I think there is. And someday it's going to spring out and scare the living shit out of you."

"Maybe when I'm eighty-five and senile."

Daphne stood and headed from the room, pausing at the door to smile back at her. "Don't make it wait that long. You're only young once. Use that body while you have it!"

Emma brooded on that parting remark for the next hour and a half, thinking about her sexual dry spell. Common sense and caution did have a way of taking the fun out of life.

Or maybe it wasn't caution that held her back from bursts of ecstatic lunacy, but caution's evil twin: cowardice. That worry had haunted her since one of her professors, an architect whose skills and talent she deeply respected, had commented that her designs were "safe." Adequate and buildable, unlike some of her classmates' impractical designs, yet there was little about her work that would inspire anyone to build it. But there were small flashes of creative genius, he'd told her. Here and there, in the treatment of a staircase or a roofline, he saw a glimmer of what she was capable of.

He had given her a B minus and told her that she'd be stuck doing architectural grunt work her whole career unless she learned to open up to her creative side, to stop being afraid of her own ideas.

She supposed he'd intended the comment to wake her up and inspire her, but all it had done was undercut her confidence, not knowing how to make herself more courageously creative. She'd thought she was being creative, and didn't know where this hidden genius was supposed to be residing or how to force it out of its hidey-hole.

The phone rang, jolting her out of her dark thoughts. She lunged for it, then held it in her hand without answering, dreading the conversation to come.

She swallowed her cowardice and flipped open the phone. "Hello?"

"Emma?" a male voice asked, voice cracking in the middle of her name.

"Yes?"

Throat clearing." 'Scuse me. This is Kevin," he went on, voice warbling somewhere around normality. "We met today at Russ's house?"

"Yes, hello. He told me that you might be calling."

"And here I am!" He laughed and then coughed.

Her last bits of hope for a potential match were fading fast. A silence stretched between them, in which she could almost hear the nervous tension thrumming through his wiry body. "How's your car?" she asked, for lack of anything better to say. "Get any scratches or dings this afternoon?"

"A rock chip in my windshield as I was driving home. Can you believe it!"

"Ooh, bad luck, there. I hope it wont be too expensive to fix."

He took the topic and ran with it for the next five minutes, apparently taking Emma's mmms and ahs and polite questions as signs of interest. Her mind began to wander to one of her favorite mental escapes: designing her dream bathroom. What were the codes for placement of electrical outlets near water, again? She eyed the binder, her fingers itching to flip it open and check.

"So I was thinking," Kevin said, "maybe you'd like to go for a drive out to Snoqualmie Falls, and we can have dinner at the lodge there."

"Dinner?" she said, snapping back to the present, a wall of cobalt blue glass tiles fading from her vision.

"I thought it would be a pretty drive."

"I'm sure it would be-"

"Great! How about Friday?"

She hadn't meant to say yes; she hadn't meant to imply an answer one way or the other! "This week isn't good," she fibbed.

"The Friday after, then. Or the Saturday-we could make a day of it! Maybe drive all the way to Ellensburg-"

"No!" Emma interrupted in a panic. "No, no, dinner would be better."

"Okay," he said, sounding disappointed.

"Friday after next, dinner, Snoqualmie Falls," Emma repeated, trying to sound cheerful and wondering how she'd managed to get locked into a date she didn't want. Too late to back out now, though.

Kevin quickly wrapped up the call, seeming to sense his perilous hold on her, and Emma snapped her phone shut. "Well, that sucks," she said aloud, and went out to the kitchen to get a bowl of ice cream.

Daphne had left a newspaper on the table, and Emma sat down with her ice cream and unfolded the front section. She skimmed the headlines and her gaze caught on the one at the bottom of the page:

King Street Station on Track for Design Contest

She dropped her spoon back into her bowl, her eyes eagerly taking in the details of the article.

The City of Seattle, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight company that owned the tracks, the federal government, and private investors were coming together to fund a complete teardown and reconstruction of the King Street train station. The new design would be decided by a panel of judges, chosen from the pool of entries in a contest. The winning designer or design team would be offered a contract to work on the new station.

The King Street Station was the only train station in Seattle, there being no subway. Emma had been to it once or twice to pick up friends who had taken Amtrak, and the place was a dump. Not only was it in serious disrepair, with plywood nailed over crumbling walls and two-thirds of the building off limits to all but the rats, but the only access was from a dead-end street with nowhere to turn around, making for chaos between taxis, buses, and hapless passenger cars all trying to get in and out.

Emma abandoned her ice cream and dashed back to her room with newspaper in hand, her heart thumping with excitement. At her computer, she typed in the URL to the website with the contest details. Professors in grad school had frequently used design contests from all over the country as assignments, but none of her work had ever been judged good enough by a professor to be sent in.

But that didn't mean she couldn't succeed this time, in her own city. She understood Seattle and its Zeitgeist; she could create something that spoke to its people. She could do this!

The contest site said that preliminary judging would be of a two-dimensional poster board. Ten finalists would present their ideas in front of the judges, the press, the project backers, and any of the interested public.

If she could make it to the finals, it might be the break she'd been looking for. Big professional design teams would surely be entering. Being a finalist alongside them would be a fabulous opportunity to network and schmooze! And if nothing else, it would be a big fat star on her resume\

This could be it. If she really set herself free, if she really dug down and unearthed that inner creative genius, maybe things would finally take a turn for the better. Maya Lin, the woman who won the contest to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, had also been graded average by her professors, and now her name was one of the few that Joe Public recognized in contemporary architecture.

What worked for Maya Lin might work for Emma Mayson, too.


Chapter Two | The Erotic Secrets Of A French Maid | Chapter Four