Draw Me In excerpt

Draw Me In excerpt:

Fledgling artist Raven fled her home in Maine last night, taking a long distance bus down to New York City. She’s still finding her way. 

Finn discovered last night that his accountant (and sometimes-but-not-really lover) was embezzling from his artisanal fermented foods business. He’s not in a good mood. 

Raven and Finn haven’t met yet. They’re about to. 

The afternoon sun shone directly in Raven’s eyes as she pedaled her new bike up Nassau. She was reasonably sure she was still in Brooklyn—which turned out to be a big sprawl of a borough—but the tall buildings of Downtown had given way to fancy brownstones, which then gave way to row houses with signs in Polish on all the shop awnings. Her knees were scraped from the time she’d fallen off her bike avoiding a semi barreling too fast off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Her lungs were gritty and her eyes stung from dust and car exhaust.

She felt exhilarated.

She was here. She was doing it. She’d landed a job on the very first day. When she’d walked into the courier place, she’d expected to face a request for references and a grilling on the city’s layout and proper messenger etiquette. Instead, the dispatcher had asked if she could rustle up a bicycle on short notice and given her the gig. Conditional on doing a good job for the first week. But she was good at memorizing maps and navigating treacherous byways. She’d be fine.

Backwoods Maine was light years away. Jimmy was a fading memory. She was a bike messenger in New York City. She’d make the rest work too. After all, she was here.

Raven’s next destination smelled curiously like brine and vinegar. Brine could be explained by the East River half a block away. She could see the glint of water past the fence that marked the end of the stubby dead-end street. But vinegar?

She parked her bike by the curb, wrapping the chain around a streetlamp, pulled out the biggest box from her saddlebag, and went over to the open truck bay, the bag clunking against her thigh with every step.

Three people loaded boxes into the back of a truck emblazoned with the name Finn’s Fermentation Factory.

The brine-and-vinegar sharpness was stronger here, mingled with dill and oregano and some other spices she couldn’t name. Her mouth watered. She hadn’t eaten for hours. She’d skipped lunch and might need to skip dinner too. She’d spent a large chunk of her final salon paycheck on a used blue bike, striped helmet, and canvas saddlebag, leaving too few dollars in her slim wallet.

The workers were staring at her. The stranger in their midst.

She glanced at the box in her hands. “I’m looking for Finn McKenna.”

“I’ll take it,” said a tall, elegant black man. “Finn’s busy.” He glanced at another man, who grimaced back at him.

“This says he has to sign it himself.”

“On your head, then. He’s not in a good mood. He had to sic the cops on his girlfriend today.”

The other guy smacked him lightly on the shoulder. “Shut up, Nate. She’s not his girlfriend.” It seemed affectionate. Strange place.

“Not anymore, that’s for sure.” Nate waved Raven upstairs. “He’s in the kitchen on the second floor. Or the office on the third. Ask if you can’t find your way. Get in, get out, don’t feed the bear. He bites.”

The kitchen was an industrial-size room filled with barrels, huge cauldrons of steaming liquid, rows of large ceramic pots, and big glass jars on long steel counters. Half a dozen people worked in here. All wearing aprons, their hair tied back. Soft jazz played over loudspeakers. The scents of vinegar and sauerkraut, spices and sharpness, were strongest in here, and no wonder. Someone crunched a pickle; someone else picked up a mug of something fizzy and gulped it down before returning to her task.

Raven scanned the workers. “Is one of you Finn?”

“He’s upstairs, I think.”

Up the dark center staircase to the third level. To the right, a forbiddingly closed door. To the left, a door cracked open, light spilling out invitingly.

Raven went into the room to the left.

It was empty. She almost turned back. She was on a schedule, and she was running way behind. But she paused. Because this room was everything she’d dreamed New York would be when she’d sat in the salon painting French manicures on the nails of matrons from Connecticut visiting Maine for their summer holidays.

It was an empty room, true, but it held such promise. Sunlight streamed in through huge windows onto the pale gray concrete floor. The ceiling was a jumble of exposed pipes. One wall was exposed brick. The matte tin ceiling had a hint of gleam, with embossed squares in an endless repeating pattern. It was a backdrop fit for a smoke-filled bar, a party in a fancy loft, or an artist’s studio. That stream of sun was delicious. It slid along the floor, licking the room with brightness. Dust mites twirled along the beam of light.

Raven set her bag and the package on a table against the sidewall and stepped into the ray of sun, drawn to it. She twirled in it, flung her arms out wide, and soaked in the beauty of it.

She was here. This was real. She might be dizzy with fatigue and hunger and shock, but she danced a dance of freedom and newness and delight. Because she could.

~*~

Finn slammed out of the office, his fingernails digging into his closed fists. Numbers swam in his brain. The more he looked at the accounts, the worse he felt. Enough.

That box of kefir starter should have gotten here by now. Finn closed the office door behind him and started downstairs—but paused, catching movement out of the corner of his eye.

Someone was in the warehouse room.

The memory of Alison’s exploits darkened his vision around the edges. He felt the gorge rise in his throat.

Nobody was taking advantage of him. Not Alison, not anyone.

He swung the door open all the way.

And stopped, dumbfounded.

A woman swayed in a swath of sunlight, arms outstretched, dancing to music only she could hear. Dark hair swirled with her graceful movements. A T-shirt clung to her curves. Her jeans had holes in both knees and paint stains down the thighs. She was beautiful in an entirely unexpected way—off-kilter and quirky, with dark slashes for eyebrows and a wide, generous mouth, tipped up in a blissful inward smile.

She danced in his loft space like she owned the place.

He stepped into the room, compelled. Wanting and not wanting to break the spell.

She turned, twirling on her toe as if her shoe were a ballet slipper and not a mud-stained work boot. He could tell the moment she saw him. She toppled off her toes and stood flat-footed. “I shouldn’t be in here, right? It was too much, though. All this lovely space, and the light. I couldn’t resist. Okay, I didn’t want to. But it was wrong of me.” Her voice was mellifluous, with a hint of New England earthiness in the vowels.

“It is nice light.” He’d never noticed before. The sunlight. The view of the river. The quiet sense of space.

She went over to a small pile of things she’d set down on the long table. “You’re Finn McKenna, I’m guessing?”

“And you’re…?”

“Raven. I was looking for you. I got distracted.” She picked up a box, proffering it.

Right. She must be the courier. The thought was disconcerting, as if she shouldn’t have such a prosaic role in life. He took the box. “Where do I sign?”

She handed him her electronic pad, then, as an afterthought, the pen that went with it. As he reached to take it, she flushed. Their fingers grazed—an electric spark like a jolt of attraction—and the pen fell to the floor.

They reached for it at the same time, then both pulled back in a comedy of errors. She grinned at him with a hint of wickedness in the curve of her mouth and the tilt of her slightly pointed chin, and he felt himself smiling back, almost unwillingly. Mental note: bike couriers can be sexy as hell. 

He picked up the pen, and they both stood. She stepped back to let him sign for the package. He was conscious of her like a heartbeat thrumming through him. He should not be so acutely aware of her. A stranger. Awareness was trouble. Awareness was stupidity.

So he handed the pen and pad back to her and picked up the box. “If you want a pickle or something, ask on your way out. Tell them Finn said you could.”

The box felt cold in his arms. Not surprising, given the half-dozen ice packs keeping the kefir starter fresh. He should get this into the kitchen.

He went downstairs without looking back. That moment, seeing the woman in his warehouse dancing, it felt like playing the saxophone. Like rippling music. Like escape. He couldn’t afford it, and so he didn’t look back.

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