Authors: Kate Vale
I never realized being a realtor could be so dangerous—or so much fun! – Elaine Douglas
The multi-toned doorbell rang again.
Seven groups already and now another one?
Olivia Brown shifted abruptly on the barstool in the kitchen of her grandfather’s stately home. One foot moved to the floor, but the other missed the stool’s rung and slipped forward, tipping her off-balance.
“Oh, no!” she cried as she fell. Her ankle twisted and she thudded to the floor just after the stool banged against the granite counter and landed next to her, a one-two exclamation point announcing her fall
She slid to one side, her emerald green pencil skirt hiked up to midthigh.
Thank goodness no one saw me.
Rolling over, she tried to avoid putting weight on her throbbing ankle.
But the doorbell. Someone
“Are you hurt?” A concerned male voice confirmed she was no longer alone. “Need some help?” The stranger had dark brown hair, long enough to curl seductively about his ears. His green eyes seemed to be sparking with humor as he peered down at her. His deeply masculine voice had a slight Southern drawl as he offered her his hand. His fingers were long and slim, reminding her of her favorite piano teacher.
Did he see me fall? How embarrassing!
Olivia bit her lip at the ache in her ankle, hoped her face wasn’t as red as it felt, and waved away his outstretched hand. Rolling onto one hip, also sore, she got to her knees and then stood up and brushed off the back of her skirt.
“No, thanks. I’m fine.” But the man rattled her. She hoped she sounded calm—as if she fell off barstools at every open house she hosted. Not that she did. This was a first.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His drawl was more pronounced. “I figured a big ol’ Victorian house like this one would have someone prim and proper, sitting with her ankles crossed, maybe crooking her little finger while drinking her tea in an old-fashioned china cup. Like that one over there.” The man chuckled, his accent highlighting the word picture he painted. “Are these for me?” He picked up a chocolate chip cookie, recently removed from the oven and still gooey and warm, from the plate on the counter.
He looked around the kitchen, strode briefly in the direction of the breakfast nook before turning to stare at her. “Not someone like you, with your hair all askew, as my Great-Aunt Annabelle would say.” He pointed to the shoe lying near the upended barstool before reaching down to pick it up. “I ’
spect you’re going to want to fix this. It seems you knocked off the heel when you fell?” He took a step closer. His hand seemed to caress the smooth granite counter and his eyes followed the route of his fingers. “Nice counter and cabinets.”
What’s not to like? Of course, they’re nice. I helped Grandmamma pick out those cabinets, the granite, too.
Olivia reached for the shoe in his hand, dyed green only last week to match her suit. She frowned as she bent over to pick up the barstool. In doing so, she placed more weight on her sore ankle and nearly fell again when she tried to balance on one foot, except that two strong hands grasped her at the waist and brought her upright again.
“Why don’t you sit down? I’ll just look around on my own.” He pointed to a door. “The basement’s that way?”
She nodded as he tromped quickly down the steps, relieved that he didn’t expect her to follow him.
“Unfinished I see, but with lots of room.” His voice carried up the stairs. “Perfect for storage lockers. I would like to talk to the, uh, to Mr. Brown. Isn’t he the broker? Maybe you could call him. I have some questions.”
Trying not to lose her cool, Olivia willed her voice to remain calm, dispassionate, business-like, even though she felt insulted.
Not another man who prefers a male realtor.
“My name’s on the sign out front. I can answer your questions.” Her cheeks grew warm. She had neglected to introduce herself. “I’m Olivia. Brown. Of Brown Family Realty,” she said, hoping her emphasis on each word made the point. “You are?”
But he didn’t reply. Maybe he hadn’t heard her question.
Granddad’s house was her personal project—even though she’d never taken on a sale for a relative before. Granddad’s reminder and her father’s warnings about that flashed in her head, like a red light at a train crossing.
“Never let emotions govern how you show a property, what you say to a prospect. And stay away from family properties. They’ll eat you alive.” Dad had never said if the property or the relatives would do the eating, but she knew what he meant. Now here she was, trying to sell Granddad’s house and she was ready to explode with frustration that this man had asked to speak to a man. And that crack about being prim and proper? As if she
wasn’t “proper,” just because she’d slipped off the bar stool.
The man reentered the kitchen from the basement but quickly turned in the direction of the living room. Olivia gingerly tried walking again. Her ankle ached with every step as she limped after him.
Another attribute she wished she hadn’t noticed. But this was no time to be checking out the man.
There he was, exiting the lace-covered French doors of the dining room, heading toward the stairs to the second floor. He wore a beautifully tailored suit and bright blue tie, darker than the pale blue of his shirt. He glanced briefly in her direction as he bounded up the stairs.
“No need to follow me, Ms. Brown. I’ll just look around on my own,” he repeated.
So he had heard her after all. But she couldn’t let him wander around on his own
Granddad expects me to watch people, to read their expressions as they look around.
She bit her lip against the pain in her ankle and the ache in one wrist, something she hadn’t noticed until she gripped the banister. When she reached the upper level, she caught up with the potential buyer in the master bedroom. His eyes scanned the coved ceiling.
“It’s a beautiful room, don’t you think?” she asked in her most enthusiastic realtor voice.
“Big enough to divide into two rooms. With an extra door into the bath, it would make a nice Jack-and-Jill suite.”
“What? You’d wreck the ambience of this room? This is a family home, perfect as it is.” The words tumbled out.
Oh dear. My feelings—getting in the way.
Shouldn’t have reacted like that.
His right eyebrow rose as he glanced her way. “Do you have your cell, Ms. Brown? Why don’t you call Jack Brown—your father, isn’t he? My business partner said he runs the brokerage, or did he sell out—what with the bad economy and all?”
She closed her mouth at his words, too offended to speak.
“Maybe he’s busy at another house today—and left you in charge at this one?” He reached into an inside coat pocket and pulled out his cell phone, revealing a well-muscled chest straining against what she suspected was a silk shirt.
“Not exactly.” She pursed her lips together to avoid speaking out of turn.
Not again, Dad. It’s been years. Why do people still think you’re the one in charge?
This man was getting on her nerves more with every word out of his mouth.
“Never mind. I’ll call him. What’s his number?” His voice echoed from the interior of the large walk-in closet.
Olivia’s knuckles whitened as she squeezed the door frame against which she was leaning.
Forget the ankle. Forget the insults. Just tell him what he wants to know.
Instead, she blurted, “He doesn’t answer the phone anymore.”
“Oh? Why is that?” He walked past her and into one of the other bedrooms, then out again and into the next one, seeming to measure the size of each room as he glanced around.
“He died three years ago. I’m the broker-owner now.”
She glared into his sea-green eyes as he passed her at the top of the curving staircase, close enough to slap his face. She was immediately dismayed by her flip-flopping stomach and racing pulse when he stopped in his tracks and took his time peering at her before his gaze seemed to soften.
“Oh,” he said, his voice quieter. “I’m sorry to hear that. Please accept my sympathies.” He cleared his throat and seemed to realize he hadn’t handled that well. But it didn’t take him long to recover. “Mind if I continue looking?”
“Not at all,” she said stiffly.
He trotted down the stairs, leaving Olivia on the landing.
Damn this ankle.
She wiggled it gingerly, and limped down the stairs, careful not to put too much weight on it. She bit her lower lip again, her irritation growing as she reached for the hand-carved banister, still bearing marks from when she’d slid down its length in jeans with beads on the back pockets. She must have been about ten when her grandfather had forbidden her to repeat that stunt.
The man had disappeared by the time she reached the main floor. Water running in the powder room told her where he must be. When he emerged, he smiled.
“All the faucets seem to work.”
As if they wouldn’t?
“This place would make a great B&B,” he confirmed more to himself than to her as he looked around the living room.
I must have heard wrong.
“What did you say? You’d turn this into a B&B? But … but Granddad—the seller wants a fam—fam—family here—”
Why must I stutter when I get upset?
She stopped talking, realizing she’d just violated the first rule of real estate sales. Never tell a buyer what a seller wants.
“Maybe he’ll change his mind when he sees my offer,”
he said coolly. “George was right. It’ll work perfectly.” He glanced at the sign-in sheet on the entry table. “I see you’ve had a bunch of people through already. So I guess it’s time to make an offer. Cash. Get me the paperwork and I’ll sign it today. No sense letting someone else get this place.”
Stunned at the finality of his words, she backed up as he approached her. But she bumped into the dining room buffet, a piece of furniture that had been in the room since she was a baby. “But, the seller—he wants a family to buy it.”
“If it’ll make him feel better, tell him I’m representing a husband and wife who will run the B&B. Where’s the paperwork?” he pressed, and took another step in her direction.
What’s he going to do—force me to write the offer?
She spied a glint of something mischievous, humorous or something else—danger maybe?—in his eyes.
“Your red hair … that color… Do you always argue with clients—or was it something I said?” He grinned lopsidedly at her, as if daring her to reply.
“It’s auburn.” She pressed her legs against the buffet. Her face grew warm at the implications that she wasn’t being professional, and at the disconcerting way her heart was thudding in her chest.
Because of the offer?
Confusing, contradictory thoughts—naughty thoughts—tumbled over one another as she stared back at him. She shook her head. Cash offers she’d received for any other home she’d listed in Evergreen, Washington, had never generated this kind of body-throbbing response.
He chuckled before she could reply. “Never mind. I’ll bet your foot is still hurting. Want me to help you down to your car—so we can go back to the office to write up the offer?” His arms reached in her direction as he grinned.
She slithered sideways, out of reach. “No, thank you. I need your name and number—so I can call the seller. If you’ll follow me.” She tried to minimize her limp as she headed for the front door.
“Where are your shoes?” He answered his own question by picking them up where she’d left them on a nearby ottoman. “Be sure to hang on to the railing—so you don’t slip again,” he cautioned. “By the way, I think my partner, George Dunston, has already checked out the backyard and those outbuildings. With some work they’d make a couple of nice duplexes, maybe even a triplex.”
That name was familiar. She stopped fumbling for a pen and looked at the man. “Dunston? Shorter than you, around forty?” she asked. She remembered the man’s comfortably rumpled look. Mr. Dunston had been nice. Polite. Respectful. She’d answered all of his questions and he’d seemed to accept everything she told him. No questioning her professionalism, her experience, no asking to speak to a male realtor. She found her pen in the bottom of her purse and grabbed the notebook, trying to ignore what Mr. Dunston’s partner had just said.
Duplex, triplex? In this neighborhood? Is he nuts?
George Dunston had never mentioned making Granddad’s house into a bed-and-breakfast or changing the other buildings.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“I don’t believe I said.” His hand on the doorknob, he glanced at the sign in the front yard—“Ms. Brown.”
Get it? I’m part of the family, part of the business?
“Very nice.” He looked her up and down, as if appraising her, like he would a horse or maybe a piece of steak. “Olivia. It fits you.” He seemed to be rolling the word around on his tongue, as if tasting it. “Lovely Olivia. That’s who you are,” he remarked, his green eyes seeming to challenge her again as he moved closer.
Now her stomach was changing places with her heart and both were doing a jig against her ribs.
No way should I be reacting to him this way, to his words. What
the matter with me? It must be because I fell off the stool.
She pursed her lips again, willing her girl-parts to settle down.