Key Of Valor (Key 3) - Page 77

s and a pay scale. She spent the evening with Simon, helping him design a birdhouse for a school project, giving his hair a trim, and just enjoying his company.

Most of the night was split between paperwork and household chores she'd let slide for too long.

She crunched numbers, she juggled them. She stretched them, and she compressed them, but the results were the same. The start-up costs had devoured her capital at a staggering rate. A great deal of that had to do with her own determination to start up with style, she admitted. But she'd be damned if she would allow anything to dull this dream.

So, she would be running close to the bone, she acknowledged as she studied the spreadsheet she'd created on the computer. She had run close to it before. If they managed to have their opening the day after Thanksgiving, and if they actually had paying customers, they would quickly start to offset the outlay. In dribbles, but a dribble could become a trickle and a trickle a flood.

Those weeks before Christmas were the prime cut in retail, and just what Indulgence needed to get it off the ground.

If there was one thing she knew how to do, it was how to stretch a dollar. She'd make it. She would need to eke out another two years on her car without any major repair bills, please God.

She could nip at corners a little here, a little there, without it affecting Simon. Six months, maybe a year, and Indulgence was going to make such a big difference in their lives. It would give them the stability she so desperately wanted for her son. And it would give her the pride and respect she so desperately wanted for herself.

It was where she'd been heading since she'd walked out of that trailer at sixteen. A major intersection among the many in her life. One more direction. Considering, she sat back. What about the others?

If Indulgence was one of her crossroads, so was the house she lived in, the house she'd saved for and was paying for every month with her hard-earned money. It seemed to Zoe that if both a trip back to her roots and an exploration of the attic at Indulgence could churn up power and forces, then scrubbing her own kitchen floor might do the same thing.

She tidied her papers, shut off the laptop, and got out her scrub bucket.

She'd picked this house first because she could afford it. Barely. And she'd known, just as she'd known when she stepped into the house that had become Indulgence, that this was her place. The home she would make for Simon.

It hadn't been much to look at then, she recalled as she soaped the floor on her hands and knees. Dirt-brown paint and a weedy yard hadn't added up to much of a presentation. Inside, the carpets were worn and the plumbing questionable, the kitchen linoleum a disgrace and the walls pocked with nail holes.

But the size had been perfect and the price right.

She'd scraped, she'd painted, she'd dug, she'd planted. She'd scavenged from yard sales and flea markets, and even the town dump.

She hadn't slept much back then, either, she recalled as she sat back on her heels. But it had been worth every hour. She'd learned a lot about herself and what she could do.

Smiling, she ran a finger over the shining square of vinyl. She'd laid that floor with her own hands. She'd watched for sales and had hunted up the clean white pattern at HomeMakers.

She'd bought the exterior and interior paint at HomeMakers, too, she realized. And some of the plumbing supplies, as well as the light fixture in the upstairs bath.

In fact, there wasn't a room in the house that didn't owe something to HomeMakers. That had to mean something.

It had to mean Bradley.

He was everywhere she looked, Zoe mused. And even when she wasn't thinking of him, he was in there, circling around in her mind. Being involved with him was thrilling, and just a little frightening. But being in love with him… that was just impossible.

More, it was dangerous for him. She hadn't missed what Pitte had said. The more she cared about Bradley, the more he could be hurt. She didn't question that he was part of the quest, that he would be a part of her life somehow. But she wouldn't let her own fantasies about what could be, if only things were just a little different, put him in Kane's path.

It was enough to have a man like him care about her, and care so much for her son. She wouldn't be greedy and ask for more.

With the floor done, she glanced at the clock on the stove. It was nearly three-thirty in the morning. She had a spotless kitchen, a balanced checkbook, a menu design, and a price list. But if she'd taken another step toward the key, she didn't know it.

She decided to get a little sleep and start fresh in the morning.

Bradley sat by the red glow of the campfire and drank lukewarm beer. The temperature didn't matter. When you were sixteen it was all about the beer. His father would skin him if he found out—and he nearly always found out. But nothing could spoil the freedom of a hot summer night.

He didn't intend to sleep. He was going to smoke another cigarette, drink the rest of his beer, and just be.

It had been Jordan's idea to camp up here in the hills, close to the shadows of Warrior's Peak. The spooky old place had always pulled at his friend, so he was forever making up stories about it and the people who might have lived or died there.

And Brad had to admit that the house was fascinating to look at. Interesting to think about. When you did, you had to wonder who the hell would build such a big-ass monster on a mountaintop in Pennsylvania. It was kind of creepy, but cool.

Still, he would leave the Peak to Jordan. He much preferred the rambling wooden house by the river. Even when he thought about moving to New York after college, or traveling around, he couldn't really imagine living anywhere but the River House.

Not for keeps.

Tags: Nora Roberts Key Fantasy
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