Quinn’s shock showed like every other emotion on her face—fine and clear as a line drawing down white paper in felt tip black pen.
Her mouth dropped open, then shut and she clenched it tight. Her big red-rimmed green eyes blinked down at the coffee table, and her brow wrinkled.
I hadn’t meant to confuse her. I’d meant to offer assistance, however unusual she might assume that was for me. Apparently, my ability to communicate with her was even worse than usual.
Maybe she hadn’t heard me? I tried again. “I asked how—”
“I heard you,” she snapped, her eyes blazing.
I dipped my chin, effectively chastised. Evidently, she would’ve preferred I wait for her to respond. My question had made her uncomfortable, that much was clear.
She opened her mouth to speak more than once but each time stopped herself as she battled internally for well over a minute—an interminable amount of time to wait for someone to respond after crying. And though Quinn’s ability to convey emotion with her songs lured in me in like a moth to flame, I found sitting next to her in this state excruciating. If pressed to describe the feeling, I might’ve said it felt like my skeleton was trying to exit my body by pressing through the layers of muscle and sinew and skin in slow motion—a kind of exodus of everything that kept me upright. Awful.
Not sure why. Perhaps the tears? I couldn’t say for certain, but I didn’t recall anyone crying in my office in memory.
She cleared her throat, bringing my attention back to her.
“Forgive me. That was unprofessional. Between waking up late, a broken clothes dryer, and a busted pipe in my kitchen that sprayed all over my shirt resulting in me showing up like this, I’m not handling this well.”
She gestured to her torso. I did not follow the sweep of her arm, as I’d noticed the bare skin of her stomach the moment she’d walked in and knew it would be fatal to me to indulge in acknowledging it. Quinn was a beautiful woman—I couldn’t ignore that.
She continued. “But worse is that my grandparents need to move, and my mother has been caring for them and—you know what? Why the hell am I telling you this? You don’t really want to know. You’re—”
“I do want to know,” I cut in, compelled. Something about her words… They gripped me. I not only wanted to know, but suddenly needed to. Someone in need—I could rarely resist that.
She shot to her feet. “I don’t understand you or any of this. You’re raising my rent, and I get that it’s nothing to someone like you, but it’s not that easy for me. A few hundred bucks a month is the difference between me and—whatever. Again. I’ll deal with it.” She glared at me for a minute, then reached over and grabbed the scone remaining on her plate. “I’m taking this.”
She rounded the chair, so I hopped up and met her at the door. She couldn’t just leave after dropping all this at my feet. “I asked what I could do. Tell me.”
Her eyes were so full of blazing passion when she leveled me with her gaze, my stomach tightened into a fist. This woman.
She lifted her chin. “Don’t raise my rent. How about that, Daddy Warbucks? Don’t try to make an extra couple thousand dollars a year off me or anyone else in that building, especially since I should’ve gotten the building in the first place. If my loan had been approved—”
“There was no competition when I placed my bid to buy it outright.”
I’d never seen anger sprout wings and carry someone away, but it seemed like today might be the day. Her face reddened like every part of her was holding back from yelling.
“Well. Good for you.” She crossed her arms tightly over her chest, bits of the scone crumbling to the ground when it bumped against her sweater.
Perhaps the reminder that I’d bought the building out from under her with an all-cash offer hadn’t been wise. But it was true. No owner would want to sell to someone with a loan when he could have cash in hand within hours of sealing a deal. This should’ve been obvious to her. Based on observation, Quinn was exceptionally smart, so the fact that she hadn’t made the connection didn’t make sense. Additionally, the whole thing required upgrading and then sustained upkeep—a loan would cover only so much.
But I would refrain from pointing any of that out in this moment. Instead, I set a hand on the office door to make it clear I would open it for her, and she let her hands drop to her sides. Her shoulders deflated, and everything in her being said get me out of here. I could tell that much, at least.
I opened the door and stood to the side. She stepped past me and got a few steps into the lobby before I spoke again. “Ms. Darling.”
She turned and narrowed her eyes. “What?”
“I’ll have my lawyers draw up a new lease. No rent increase.”
Her brow furrowed deeper, like this wasn’t what she’d just asked of me. “Why?”
I blinked back at her and shrugged, though she was unlikely to see it. The answer was obvious, wasn’t it? “Because you asked.”