"Exactly." Zoe lined up the last screw, then drilled the hole. "Here's the chance to have a highpowered career, a spiffy life, fly off to Rome for a week. All you have to do is one little thing. Not get pregnant at sixteen. He figured out he can't threaten me with Simon, so what if he just eliminates him from the equation."
"He's underestimating you."
Zoe glanced up at Malory. "Oh, yeah, he is, because nothing in that crystal ball comes close to what I have with Simon. And you know what? It doesn't come close to what I'm doing here, with both of you."
She smiled and pushed herself to her feet. "I was wearing really great shoes, though. I think they were Manolo Blahnik, like what's-her-name, Sarah Jessica Parker, wears."
"Hmm. Excellent and sexy shoes, or a nine-year-old boy." Dana tapped a finger on her chin. 'Tough choice."
"I think I'll be sticking with Payless for the time being." She stepped back to study the completed station. "He doesn't scare me." She let out a laugh, then set down the drill. "I was so sure he would, but he doesn't."
"Don't let your guard down," Malory warned her. "He's not going to take a simple 'no thanks' for an answer."
"That's the one he's going to keep getting. Anyway, he's made me think about the clue again. Choices. The moment of truth, you called it, Malory, in the paintings. I guess I had one, the night Simon was conceived, or when I made the decision to have him. But I think there has to be another, either one that I've already made or one I have to make."
"We can make a list," Malory began and made Dana laugh.
"How did I know she would say that?"
"A list," Malory continued with a bland look for her friend, "of important events and decisions Zoe's made, and of minor ones that had important results. Just the way she thought about the Valley as a forest with paths. This time it's her life as the forest. We look for intersections, connections, how one choice led to others, how any of them pertains to the key."
"I've been playing around with that already and I was thinking…" She lined up the next station, pulled out her measuring tape, then just set it down. "The decisions you made, the things both of you did that led you to your keys, involved Flynn and Jordan. Brad and I are the only ones left, so it follows that mine's going to involve him. That puts him on the front line with me."
"Brad can handle himself," Dana assured her.
"I'm certain he can. And I can handle myself. I'm just not sure I can handle him. I can't afford to make a mistake, not about the key, not about myself and Simon."
"Are you worried that being closer to Brad, forming a personal relationship with him, could be a mistake?" Malory asked her.
"Actually, I'm starting to worry that not being closer to him might be a mistake. That's making it harder to be practical."
"You're going over there tonight," Malory said. "Why don't you take a tip from Simon just this once and enjoy being with someone who so obviously enjoys being with you?"
"I'm going to try." She picked up the tape again. "It helps to know I've got a chaperon. Two, actually, counting Moe."
"Sooner or later, no matter how fond Brad is of Simon, he's going to want to see you alone."
Zoe passed Dana the measuring tape and picked up her drill. "Then I'll worry about that, sooner or later."
More sooner, later, and right this minute, Zoe thought when she was alone again.
She knew that with a physical attraction this intense, they were bound to come together. But she could, and she would, decide the time, the place, the tone. The rules. There had to be rules, just as there had to be an understanding between them before that intimate step was taken.
If Bradley Vane was indeed one of her forks in the road, it was vital to be certain that neither of them ended up lost, alone, and bleeding at the end of the trail.
Simon’s excited call interrupted Zoe's debate over earrings. Should she go with the big silver hoops, sort of carefree sexy, or the little marcasite drops she'd splurged on last summer, more demure and sophisticated?
These were the details that set the tone for a woman's mood, her outlook, her intentions for an event. A man might miss them, she thought as she held one of each pair up to her ears, but a woman knew why she was wearing a particular pair of earrings. Or shoes. Or why she'd chosen a particular bra.
These were the building blocks for the dating ritual. She set both earrings down and pressed a hand to her stomach. God, she was dating.
"Mom! Come quick! You gotta see this."
"Just a minute."
"Hurry up! Hurry, it's pulling in the driveway. Man. Oh, man ! Come on, Mom!"