Publish Date: July 2011
Viktoria Morfit has built herself a safe, convincing life in her Manhattan apartment following a tragedy in her life five years before. Her latest project is to attract a pair of peregrine falcons to the nestbox she’s installed on the ledge of her highrise apartment, giving her back a little bit of the nature she misses so much since she quit rockclimbing.
Landlord Nathan Archer has no idea how badly Tori relies on the handful of walls surrounding her, any more than she knows what kind of a childhood he endured in the building she thinks so highly of. He’s planning on razing every last brick to the ground and burying his memories along with it, but the more he discovers about the gentle Tori and her whacky bunch of neighbours, the harder it’s going to be to put his demons to rest.
When the chips come tumbling down will Nathan be able to set aside the misery of his past to protect the beautiful peregrine falcons and the wild, passionate Tori who both call his building home?
Copyright © 2011 by Nikki Logan. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
Rapunzel in New York
‘You’d better get up here, Nathan. There’s a woman about to jump from your building.’
That’s all it took to tear Nathan Archer away from his Columbus Circle office and send him racing uptown. Ironic that the A-line was quicker than a cab or even his driver could get him up to Morningside but the subway spilled him out just one block from the West 126th Street building he’d grown up in. Grown old in. Well before his time.
He pushed through the gathered throng, shaking his head at the impatient crowd. Was there a whole population of people who hovered in alleys and bars just waiting for some poor individual to be nudged too far in life? To climb out onto a bridge or a rooftop.
Or a ledge.
He followed their collective gaze upward. Sure enough, there she was. Not exactly preparing for a swan dive; more crouched than standing. She looked young, though it was hard to tell from this distance.
She was staring at the sky with an intensity strong enough to render her completely oblivious to the crowd gathering below. He lifted his eyes to the popcorn clouds. Was she praying? Or was she just in her own tormented world?
‘The crisis team is mobilizing,’ a nearby cop said, turning back to stare uselessly up to the tenth floor. ‘ETA twenty minutes.’
Twenty minutes? She’d already been out there the quarter-hour it had taken him to get uptown. The chances of her lasting another twenty?
He glanced around at the many spectators who were doing exactly nothing to rectify the situation and swallowed a groan. There was a reason he was more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. Behind-the-scenes had served him well his whole life. You got a lot done when you weren’t wasting time in the centre of attention. He paid people to do the limelight thing.
Unfortunately, none of them were here.
Nathan looked back up at the looming building and the woman perched precariously on it. Hadn’t these old walls contained enough misery?
He muttered a curse and his legs started moving. Had nobody thought of doing this sooner? He pushed past a gaggle of onlookers and headed toward the building, counting windows as he went. It took him three minutes to get into his own building and up to the eighth floor and he passed three residents on the stairs–they had no clue about the drama unfolding in their own building. If they saw it on the news tonight they[d be kicking themselves they missed it. Not that it was making the news tonight or any night while he still breathed. His development didn’t need the bad press. He hadn’t worked on this for all this time only to have it turned upside down by a woman with a blown psychiatric fuse.
Nate burst through the stairwell door and turned left, counting the windows he knew to be on the outside of the building. Nine…ten…eleven… On twelve, he paused for only a second before delivering a strategic kick right at the weak point in the door of apartment 10-B. As fragile as the rest of the century old building, it exploded inwards in a shower of splinters.
Inside, the apartment was neat and carefully decorated but small enough that he was able to check all of the five rooms in less than thirty seconds, even with a limp from the jar that had just about snapped his ankle. Three rooms had outside windows but they were sealed tight–safety measures. But, apparently back in the nineteen-twenties some architect considered that only grown men needed to be saved from themselves because there was one more window in every apartment–small and awkwardly positioned above the toilet cistern–but just big enough for a slight woman to wiggle through. Or a young boy.
He knew that from experience.
This one stood wide open, its tasteful lemon curtains blowing gently in the breeze providing access out onto 10B’s sheltered ledge.
Nathan’s heart hammered from way more than the urgent sprint up two flights of stairs. He took a deep, tense breath, climbed onto the closed lid of the toilet and peered out the window, sickeningly prepared to find nothing but pigeon droppings and a swirl of air where a woman had just been.
But she was still out there, her back to him as she stretched out on the ledge on all fours, giving him a great view of her denim-clad behind…
…and the tangle of ropes and rigging that fixed her more than securely to the ledge.
Frustrated fury bubbled up deep inside. Of all the stupid-ass, time wasting stunts... He boosted himself up and half through the window and barked to her butt. ‘Honey, you’d better be planning to jump,’ he hissed ‘or I’m going to throw you off here myself.’
Viktoria Morfitt spun so fast she nearly lost her careful balance on the ledge. Her reflexes were dulled through lack of use but her muscle-memory was still entirely intact and it choreographed her muscles now to brace her more securely on the narrow stone shelf. Adrenaline pulsed through her bloodstream and her lungs sucked in an ache of cold air and then expelled it on a ripe curse as she spotted the man wedged in her bathroom window glaring at her like a maniac. His voice had drawn her attention but his words whooshed away on the relentless New York sounds coming up from Morningside’s streets.
What the–? She shuffled backwards as far as the ledge allowed and knocked against the peregrine nest box she’d just been installing.
The stranger lurched further forward, half hanging out the window, enormous hands stretched out toward her, and spoke more clearly. More slowly. ‘Easy, honey. Just a joke. How about you come back inside now?’
She wasn’t fooled by those treacle tones for one moment. Or the intense eyes. Bad guys never turned up at your doorstep badly scarred, carrying violin cases, and talking like Robert deNiro. They turned up like this: nice shirt, open collar, careless hair, and designer stubble. Big, well-manicured hands. Good looking. Exactly the sort of guy you’d think was okay to let inside your apartment.
Except that he’d already let himself in.
For one crazy second Tori considered leaping off the ledge. Her intruder could help himself to her stuff–whatever he wanted–and she could lower herself down to Barney’s ledge. He’d be home for sure and his bathroom window was perpetually open so he could smoke out of it. Her hand slipped to the titanium fixings at her pelvis. Her rigging would hold. It always did.
A sharp pain gnawed deep and low. Almost always.
She raised her voice instead, hoping to alert a neighbour. ‘How about you get the heck out of my apartment!’ Tension thumped out of her in waves that translated into quavers in her voice. Could he tell?
He reached forward again. ‘Look–‘
Tori slid hard up against the corner of the building, clambering around the nest box. Dammit, any further and she’d knock it off the ledge and have to start all over again. Well, that and possibly kill someone walking below…
She glanced easily over the ledge and met the intense stares of thirty or so passers-by and a couple of NYPD officers. ‘Hey!’ She yelled down to the cops. ‘Get up here! There’s a burglar in my apartment. 10B!’
The stranger surged back through the window and made a grab for her foot. She kicked it away then stole a moment to glance back down. Two of the cops were running toward her building.
Heat poured off the contemptuous look he shot at her. ‘You know what? I have a meeting to get back to. So either go ahead and jump or get the hell back in here.’ With that he disappeared back into her apartment.
Jump? She glanced back down at the crowd below; their expectant faces all peering up. At her.
Heat surged up her throat. Someone must have called her in as a jumper when she was out on the ledge. He thought she was a jumper. But while most of them stood below waiting for the aerial show, only one had the nerve to race up here and actually try to help her.
He deserved points for that.
She scrabbled toward the now vacant window and crouched to look inside. He was taller than he looked when he was squashed through her tiny window–broader too–and he completely filled the doorway to her bathroom. But self-preservation made her pause. Him being good looking didn’t change the fact he was a stranger. And she wasn’t much on strangers.
Tori peered in at him. ‘I’ll come in when you’re not there.’
He rolled his eyes then found hers again. ‘Fine. I’ll be in the hall.’
Then he was gone.
She swiveled on her bottom and slid her legs quickly through the tiny window, stretching down until her feet hit the toilet lid. Then she unclipped her brace-line with the ease of years of practice, clenched her abs, and brought her torso through behind it in a twist that would have been right at home on Cirque du Soleil.
As good as his word, he’d moved out into the very public hallway. But between them lay a forest of timber shards.
‘You kicked in my door?’ She hit a pitch she usually only heard from the peregrine falcons that circled her building looking for somewhere to raise their chicks.
A frustrated breath shot from between his thin lips. ‘Apologies for assuming you were about to die.’
He didn’t look the slightest bit apologetic but he did look stunningly well dressed and gorgeous, despite the aloof arch of his eyebrows. Just then two uniformed officers exploded through the fire-escape doors and bolted towards them.
‘He kicked in my door!’ Tori repeated for their benefit.
Taller than either of the cops, he turned towards them easily; unconcerned. ‘Officers–‘
They hit him like a subway car, slamming his considerable bulk up against the wall and forcing him into a frisk position. He winced at the discomfort and then squeezed his head sideways so that he could glare straight into her flared eyes.
Guilt gnawed wildly. He hadn’t actually hurt her… Or even tried to.
He simmered while they roughly frisked him up and down, relieving him of his phone and wallet and tossing them roughly to the ground. He stared at her the whole time, as though this was her fault and not his. But that molten gaze was even more unsettling close up and so she bent to retrieve his property and busied herself dusting them carefully off while the police pressed his face to the wall.
‘What are you doing here?’ one asked.
‘Same thing you are. Checking on a jumper.’
‘That’s our job, sir,’ the second cop volunteered as he finished searching the stranger’s pockets.
The man looked back over his shoulder at the first officer, his hands still carefully pressed out to both sides. ‘Didn’t look like it was going to happen before nightfall.’
‘Protocols,’ the first cop muttered tightly, a flush rushing up his thick neck.
They shoved him back into the wall for good measure and Tori winced on his behalf. Okay, this had gone far enough…
‘Are you responsible for this?’ The taller cop spoke before she could, leaning around to have a good look at the gaping entrance to her apartment where the door hung from just one ancient, struggling hinge. ‘This is damage to private property.’
‘Actually I think you’ll find it’s my property,’ the man gritted.
All three faces swiveled back to him. ‘Excuse me?’ the taller cop said.
The man slowly turned, his hands still in clear view. ‘My name is Nathan Archer. I own this building.’ He nodded at the wallet that Tori still held. ‘My identification’s in there.’
She held it out, numbly. ‘You’re our landlord?’ All sympathy for him vanished between breaths.
One of the officers pulled the man’s driver’s license from the wallet and confirmed his identification. ‘This confirms your name but not your ownership of this building.’
He looked at Tori. ‘Who do you pay rent to?’
A money-hungry, capitalist, corporate shark. Tori narrowed her eyes. ‘Sanmore Holdings.’
He looked back at the cop holding his wallet. ‘Back compartment.’
The cops immediately eased their hold of him and he straightened.
Nathan Archer. The man responsible for the state of her building. Probably living below 59th himself, but way too busy and important to worry about elevators not working for strangers and torn carpet under their feet. She played the only card she had left and pleaded to the rapidly-losing-interest police.
‘It’s still my door. I must have rights?’
The second cop looked her over lazily while his partner answered for him. ‘I guess you could get him for trespass.’
Archer immediately transferred the full-force of his glare onto the second officer. Insanely, Tori missed the searing malevolence the moment it left her.
‘Yes! Trespass. I didn’t invite him in.’ She smiled triumphantly at her landlord for good measure.
That brought his eyes back to hers and her chest tightened up fractionally.
‘I was saving your life…’
She shoved her hands on her hips and stood her ground. ‘My life was just fine, thank you. I was fully rigged up.’
‘Not obvious from the street. Or from this side of the locked door,’ he added pointedly, his blue, blue eyes simmering but no longer furious. Not exactly. They flicked, lightning-fast from her head to her toe and back again, and the simmer morphed into something a lot closer to interest–sexual interest. Breath clogged her throat as he blazed his intensity in her direction, every bit as naturally forceful as Niagra Falls.
In that moment the two cops ceased to exist.
It didn’t help that a perky inner-voice kept whispering over her shoulder, seducing her with reason, weaving amongst the subtle waves of his expensive scent and reminding her that he had been trying to help. She didn’t want to be seduced by any part of this man. At all.
She wanted to be mad at him.
She straightened to her full height, shook off her conscience and spoke slowly in case one of those thumps his head had taken at the hands of the local constabulary had dented his greedy corporate brain. ‘You broke my door!’
‘I’ll buy you a new door,’ he said, calm and completely infuriating.
The police officers looked between them, bemused.
Tori glared up at him. ‘While you’re buying stuff how about a new washer for the ancient laundry? Or a door-buzzer that works so we can quit calling messages up the stair-well.’ The heat in his gaze swirled around her. He straightened and narrowed his eyes. ‘Nothing in this building is below code.’
‘Nothing in this building is particularly above it, either. You do just enough to make sure you meet the tenancy act. We have heat and water, and electrics that aren’t falling out of the ceiling, but that’s about it. The elevator doesn’t even go all the way to the top floor.’
‘It never has.’
‘So that’s a good enough reason not to fix it now? The woman in 12C is eighty years old. She shouldn’t be hiking it up four flights of stairs. And the fire code–‘
His eyes glittered. ‘The fire code specifies that you use the stairs in an emergency. They work fine. I know because I just ran up them to save your life!’
She stepped closer, her chest heaving and dragged her eyes off his lips. This close she could practically feel the furnace of his anger. ‘Not if you’re an octogenarian!’
‘Then she should take an apartment on the lower floors.’
Tall as he was, he had to lean down toward her to get in her face. It caused a riot in her pulse. She lifted her chin and leaned toward him. ‘Those apartments are full of other old people–‘
The shorter cop growled behind them. ‘Would you two like some privacy? Or maybe a room?’
Tori snapped around to look at the cop and than back to the man in front of her. Sure enough, she was standing dangerously close to Nathan Archer and the hallway fairly sparkled with the live current swirling around the two of them.
‘I have a room,’ she grumbled to the officer though her eyes stayed on the tallest man in the hallway. ‘I just don’t have a door.’
Archer’s deep voice rumbled through tight lips. A rich man’s lips. Though she did wonder what they would look like if he smiled.
‘I’ll have that fixed by dinnertime.’
Too bad if she wanted to take a nap or…relax…or something before then! ‘So you do have a maintenance team at your disposal. You wouldn’t know it from the general condition of the building–‘
‘There you go,’ the officer cut in loudly. ‘Complete restitution. I think we’re done here.’
She spun back to him. ‘We’re not done. What about the trespass?’ The officer looked apologetically at Archer.
Oh please… ‘Seriously? One waft of a fancy business card and now the rich guy is calling the shots?’
All three of them looked at her like she was mad. Pretty much where she imagined they started an hour ago, back when she was up the ledge. ‘I want him charged with trespass. He entered my apartment without my permission.’
Archer tried again. ‘Come on. I was trying to save your life.’
She tossed her hair back. ‘Tell that to the judge.’
‘I guess I’ll have to.’
One officer reluctantly took her details while the other spoke quietly to Archer a few meters down the hall. He smiled while the cop shook his head and chuckled.
She wedged her hands to her hips again and spoke loudly. ‘When you?re completely done with the testosterone bonding…?’
Her cop took a deep breath and turned to the taller man. ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…’
As the Miranda unfolded, Tori handed Archer his mobile phone and tried hard not to meet his eyes. She had a way of losing focus when she did that. But her fingers touched his as he wrapped them around his Blackberry and she flinched away from the intimate brush of skin on skin.
Her pulse stumbled.
‘…if you cannot afford an attorney…’
As if. He probably surrounded himself with attorneys. His fine white business shirt looked like it cost more than he spent on this building in a year.
The cops walked Archer back toward the stairs, finishing up their legal responsibilities. At some point someone decided hand-cuffs were overkill–shame–but Archer walked obediently between them anyway, speaking quietly into his cell phone and only half listening as his rights were fully enumerated.
As the cops sandwiched him through the door to the stairwell, he glanced back at her, a lock of dark hair falling across his forehead between those Hollywood eyes. He didn?t look the slightest bit disturbed by the threat of legal action. For some reason, that only made her madder.
How often did this guy get arrested?
‘Better save that single phone-call they’ll give you in lock-up,’ she yelled down the hall to them. ‘You’re going to need it to call someone about my door!’