Deciding to take a break from Drake was one thing. Doing it was another. When she got home that night, Drake was waiting for her in his car. Both Marcie’s car and her boyfriend’s cars were gone. The extension cord was still plugged into her outlet.
Drake unfolded his tall frame from his car and turned to her. “How about dinner?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think I could eat a thing. I’m a bundle of nerves.”
Drake shut his car door. “What’s going on? I noticed you have a broken window. How did that happen?”
“It’s a long story.” She headed for her apartment.
Drake followed her. “Am I intruding? Are you angry with me?”
She looked up at him and shook her head. “No…I just feel like I might get emotional.”
He looked uncertain. “I have a shoulder you can cry on if you want, but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
She smiled up at him as they stopped in front of her door. “Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She shoved the key in the lock and turned it.
Drake spied the extension cord and frowned as he followed it to Marcie’s apartment. “What’s going on here?”
She opened the door. “I found it that way yesterday. I didn’t want to have another confrontation with her so I let it go for now.”
He leaned down and picked up the cord. He grimaced and unplugged it from the wall. “I wonder what they are running on it. The cord is hot. That could start a fire.”
She hadn’t even considered that possibility. Once inside the house, she headed for the kitchen. “I’ll put on some coffee.”
She decided not to tell him about the electric bill, but Drake was way ahead of her.
“I assume Marcie doesn’t have electricity. Are you having trouble paying the bills?”
She jerked her head up and frowned. “Only the mortgage. Why?”
He absently studied the coffee pot for a moment. When his gaze came back to hers, he accurately identified the problem. “I charge the electricity bill with the rent. That way I know it’s paid. Since I own the properties, I’m responsible if they don’t pay, and I’ve even heard of situations where the utility company actually put a lien on the property without notifying the owner.”
The cat was already out of the bag, so she might as well get as much information as she could glean from him.
“It isn’t supposed to get low enough to freeze the pipes tonight and they’re supposed to turn it on tomorrow morning. There’s another front moving through tomorrow and it’s supposed to get down into the single digits at night. I paid the bill, but… “She lifted a couple of mugs from the rack. “I don’t understand how the electric bill got so high in only two months.”
“Maybe she was behind more than two months.”
“The electric company said it was two months.”
He thought about it for a minute. “Maybe they’re using space heaters, or…”
She looked up at him. “Or what?”
He shrugged. “Grow lights.”
“Grow lights – for what?”
Kayla filled the pot and added coffee. She turned it on and then turned to Drake. “My life was so uncomplicated a few months ago. I wish I had never purchased this property.”
He grimaced. “I know how you feel. This kind of thing is why there is a shortage of rentals and those available are so expensive. I’ve thought about selling mine, but then there are the good renters – and most of them are.”
She sighed. “I couldn’t even sell mine right now – not until I get her out of there – and fix that window. I just hope they get out here when they said they would. I’m afraid the plumbing will freeze and burst.”
“They’re pretty good about doing things when they say they will.”
He would have a reason to know. She wouldn’t. He tipped his head to the side, as if something had just occurred to him.
“You aren’t responsible for late charges – only the electric. If you call them and ask, they can tell you if late charges are included. Ask them to remove them before you pay them anything. They will.”
She rolled her eyes. “I didn’t think to ask and I’ve already paid the bill. I have no leverage now.”
He shrugged. “It wouldn’t hurt to ask. The worst they can say is no. The best case would be they would agree and credit your account.”
“And pay me back slowly over several months.”
“See if they will credit both accounts for this property. That would eat the credit up faster and you wouldn’t have an electric bill for a month or so.”
He pulled her into his arms and caressed her back. “I’m sorry all this is happening to you.”
She lifted her chin and looked up at him. “I’m sorry I keep dragging you into it. This isn’t your problem and I know you didn’t come over here to listen to me complain.”
He lifted her chin with a curled index finger. “I want to help you. Lean on me.”
“Why? Why are you doing this for me? What did you mean when you said I wasn’t innocent – I was pure?”
His brows shot up in surprise. “The way you have handled all of this. No matter how she treats you, you still think you should treat her fairly.”
She frowned. “That’s not innocent or pure. That’s just plain stupid.”
He laughed. “No, it’s pure. Everyone I know would be calling the police or fighting back. You respond with understanding and compassion.”
He was wrong about that, but at least he didn’t think she was a self-righteous prude. Of course, he’d never said that. She only imagined it, but it still hurt. Her eyes burned and she blinked back tears.
He gently pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
She looked up at him and met his steamy gaze. This was the perfect time to do what she planned. She lifted her chin, her gaze focusing on his lips – but she couldn’t force herself to make that bold move.
She didn’t need to. He lowered his head and kissed her softly on the lips. She closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of his firm lips on hers. When he released her, she stifled an urge to tell him that she loved him. How did a person know for sure that they loved someone?
His amused gaze mocked her. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
So, he did think she was a prude. She pushed him away. “It wasn’t as nice as some others, either.”
It was a lie, but he wouldn’t have any way of knowing that. She’d kissed other men before, but it was never as exciting as his kiss.
He rubbed a hand over his mouth, managing to hide any hint of a smile on his lips, but his humor-filled eyes gave him away. “Is that so?”
She swung around to the coffee pot. “Now you’re making fun of me.”
“No. I just wondered why you felt the need to pretend.”
“Pretend what?” she asked in an innocent tone as she poured the coffee into two cups.
“That you’re experienced.”
She looked up at him. “I’m not – pretending or experienced. Are you?”
He took one of the mugs, his expression sober as he walked to the table. “Does it matter?”
She grabbed the other mug and followed him to the table. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
His smile was wry. “Well, it’s not a thing a man wants to brag about.”
She frowned. “Why?”
He shrugged. “An inexperienced woman is a prize. When a man gets that kind of reputation, people start wondering if he likes other guys.”
“That’s just stupid.”
He laughed. “Yes, it is. More importantly, the fact that he cares what other people think is just stupid.”
Somewhere their conversation had drifted from kindness to sex. It was time to shift it somewhere else. Apparently, Drake thought so too. He sipped his coffee. “I can loan you the money for the mortgage.”
She shook her head. “It isn’t your responsibility.”
“I can afford it.”
“It wouldn’t matter if you were a millionaire. It still isn’t your responsibility. I got myself into this and I’ll find some way to get myself out.”
“You’re prideful and stubborn.”
Maybe she was, and probably frustrating as well, but borrowing the money from him or anyone else wasn’t going to resolve the problem. She’d still be in debt the same amount. If she told him that, he’d think she was trying to get him to give her the money.
She sighed. “It isn’t the debt that concerns me the most. The worst part of it is that Mrs. Langley trusted me and I let her down. I don’t know how I’m going to tell her.”
“She isn’t entitled to know your financial details. If I loaned you the money, you could pay her and she’d never know.”
“But I would. Putting it off isn’t going to make it any better. I have to find a solution. If I’m late, but I resolve it on my own, she would understand.”
“You don’t think she would understand if you told her now? From what you’ve said about her, I think she would realize your inexperience resulted in making a mistake. It isn’t as though you decided you didn’t owe her anything. She might even have some insight that could help.”
All of that was true, but… “She isn’t in good health and I don’t want to cause her any stress.”
He leaned back in his chair and nodded. “I can understand that.” He studied his coffee mug for a few minutes before looking up at her. “Okay. You won’t let me help you financially, but maybe I can help you with a lawyer. I have a friend…”
“I can’t afford a lawyer,” she interrupted.
“I could get free advice from him.”
“I’m sure your friend isn’t in the business to give free advice to all his friends and relatives and all their friends and relatives.”
He lifted his brows. “Probably not.” He gave her a level look. “Pure.”
She smiled. “Then what does that make you?”
“Probably a nuisance. What would you like me to do?”
“You’ve already helped me by simply being there for me.”
“Well, Woolsey could do that.”
She gave him a flirtatious smile. “Somehow it just wouldn’t be the same.”
He grinned. “I hope not.” He finished his coffee and stood. “Speaking of Woolsey, I’d better get home and feed him.” He reached for her, a twinkle in his eye. “Now lick my hands and woof me goodbye.”
She giggled as he pulled her into his arms. “Now I feel better.”
He kissed her. “Are you hungry now?”
She shook her head. “Not much. I’ll eat a peanut butter sandwich or something later.”
He gave her a stern look and she grinned. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any dog food.”
He laughed as she walked him to the door. “Call me if you think of something I can do. I want to help you.”
The first thing they noticed when they stepped outside was that the extension cord was plugged in again. Both cars were back.
Drake jerked the plug out again and marched over to their door before she could stop him. He knocked and when Daniel answered, he handed him the plug. “I don’t know what you’re running on this, but it isn’t a heavy enough cord for it. Notice how the cord is hot? It could start a fire.”
Daniel looked at him and then at Kayla. “I didn’t plug it in.”
Drake shrugged. “Well, it obviously came from here, so could you tell whoever did that it’s dangerous? If something happened, they would be liable.”
Kayla followed him back to his car. “Thanks. I should have done that.”
He gave her a wry smile. “Of course you should have. Everything is your responsibility.” He took her hand. “It didn’t cost me a thing, did it? When someone wants to help, let them.”
That thought stayed in her mind long after he left. She could only think of four people who would even offer to help. Her parents, Mrs. Langley and Drake. That didn’t say much for her friends. Still, Drake was right. If they offered, she’d probably turn down the help. Drake hadn’t given her the option of turning down his help. He simply handled it – probably much better than she would have. She wasn’t sure if it was instinct or revulsion that made her feel intimidated by Daniel. Obviously, Drake wasn’t. But then, Drake was a lot bigger than Daniel and he had an air of authority that made people listen to him. At first, she had thought he didn’t have the personality for it, but that wasn’t true. She simply didn’t understand what was required. As he pointed out, most tenants were good. Considering the way he treated her, he probably treated them with as much respect. As she had discovered, if you gave some people an inch, they took 400 miles.
The next day she was thinking about him at work when her supervisor stopped by to bring her some more paperwork. Sadie was her supervisor, but also her friend, so she decided to ask a simple question.
“How do you know for sure if you’re in love?”
Sadie looked startled for a moment, but she had an instant answer. “You find yourself staring off into space thinking of nothing but him until you forget you’re at the office.”
Heat rushed up her neck so fast that it actually hurt. Her face was flaming. “Oh my gosh! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.…”
Sadie laughed. “Oh well, we’re all entitled to our moments of distraction. I’m only glad that it isn’t something bad troubling you. Congratulations. You’re in love. Who’s the lucky guy?”
If she had been neglecting her work with distracted moments before now, it was something bad troubling her. She didn’t realize she had been so distracted. She’d watch that, but Sadie didn’t need to know about her personal problems. She shrugged. “I don’t know that it has even crossed his mind yet.”
“Well, when you two decide, let me know. I’ve been wondering if you would ever get serious about a guy.”
Private matters shouldn’t be spread around at work, but an engagement announcement wasn’t that private – assuming they ever got to that point.