I swatted the alarm. Five thirty a.m. Groaning, I struggled into my robe and made my way to the kitchen and the first cup of what would surely be several coffees this morning.
My steam shower perked me up somewhat. After toweling off and applying moisturizer, I pulled jeans and a long-sleeved shirt from my big walk-in closet, formerly a small bedroom, and grabbed the top bra-and-panties set from my underwear drawer. No need to ponder the choice like I used to… at least not yet. I dressed for the day, ran a styling brush through my hair, and applied minimal makeup—blush, mascara, and lipstick. Good enough for an early-morning visit to Mick’s shop, I decided.
As I quickly made the bed, I paused at the nightstand to gently run a finger across the framed photo of me and my guy, Wukowski. At least I hoped he was still my guy. Our long separation ended in sixteen days, and the copper panels I would pick up soon were the final touch in my newly redecorated boudoir. I wanted to appeal to his sensual side and also make him feel as if the formerly very feminine room welcomed the masculine in him.
Filling my to-go cup with more caffeine, I headed down to street level to await my ride. Last year, I’d finally traded in my beloved post-divorce black cherry Miata convertible, whose advancing age and failing reliability pushed me to the decision. Being a two-seater, my new Tango Red Audi TT Roadster didn’t qualify to transport large objects like the panels. However, its speed, comfort, and appointments suited me perfectly, and there was plenty of leg room for a tall man… like Wukowski.
The big Ford F-450 pulled up in the driveway, and Bobbie Russell hopped out of the passenger side. Even at this ungodly hour, he looked gorgeous. I once referred to him as a young Rock Hudson, but he corrected me. “Nobody remembers him, Ange. I’m going for the Colton Haynes look but without the bleached hair.” At my blank expression, he added, “You know, the guy from Arrow.” I nodded, as if recognizing the reference.
Bobbie made partner in my PI company, AB Investigations, two years ago, and his skills had blossomed alongside our friendship ever since. “Hey, Angie. Ready to haul metal?”
“I am,” I told him. “I can’t wait to get those panels hung and put the last touches on the bedroom.”
With a snicker, he said, “There’ll be some touches after the separation ends, I imagine.”
The driver, Bram York, leaned over to the open door. “Bobbie,” he drawled, “that’s no way to talk to a lady.”
“Girlfriends talk like that, Bram,” he said.
Yep, Bobbie bats for the other side, which has disheartened more than a few women of my acquaintance.
With help from Bobbie and a hand up from Bram, I levered my five-foot-three self into the very tall truck.
“In, shorty?” Bram asked, teasing.
“Hey,” I protested, “I may be somewhat height-challenged, but I’m a mighty woman.”
“That you are and no mistake,” he agreed.
The acknowledgment from the former special-ops guy—I didn’t know which branch; he kept that part of his life private—meant a lot to me. He and his current employer—they had served together—had brought a whole new meaning to the word protection when a former client and I received threats from a war criminal.
I swayed slightly between the two men who shared the bench seat with me. “Thanks a lot for helping me out, especially at such an early hour. It was the only time Mick could meet with me. He’s leaving for his cabin at seven this morning.”
“No problem,” Bram assured me. “We’ll get your panels home, and Bobbie and I will help with the installation. It’ll take more than one set of hands. Got my toolbox in the truck bed.”
“I’m equipped,” I told him. “A woman needs her own tools. But I’ll be glad of the assistance. And breakfast is on me this morning.” I saw Bram shift slightly and knew the Southern gentleman in him felt uncomfortable accepting a meal from a woman. “No arguments, Bram,” I said in my stern mom voice.
Sunlight hadn’t yet broken over the horizon as we drove past the front of the U-shaped Arts Galleria.
“Looks like an interesting strip mall,” Bobbie said. “All artists and crafters, right?”
“Right. It’s Mick Swanson’s brainchild, and he’s worked hard to make it a reality. It’s unique in the city.” Of course, there were other concentrations of art shops, but no other dedicated art malls in Milwaukee. Mick’s shop, Metal Works, held pride of place at the street-facing center of the U-shaped galleria.
Bram rounded the corner into the alley behind the shops. “Guess that’s the place,” he said, pointing to an open oversized roll-up door. “But why’s it dark?”
No lights were on outside or in the workroom. “Mick told me he’d be on the dock, waiting for us. I don’t like the look of this,” I said.