The Harder They Fall
I’m often asked where I get my ideas. For this story, the hero and the heroine have a rather unconventional start – they meet when she falls on him through a hole in the ceiling while he’s standing before the toilet. Funny, but not very romantic. Not too long ago, I was at a writers’ meeting. In the bathroom, far above me, there was a hole. It flapped open, revealing a dark, yawning space. As I sat there contemplating this hole, I wondered what would happen if a really, really gorgeous man fell through it. One didn’t, darn it, but a story was born.
For David, and the
best ten years of my life
“Only you, Aunt Eloise, could haunt me from the dead.” Hunter sighed and reread the note he’d gotten from his great-aunt’s attorney. The lighthearted tone of the note sounded so like Eloise had in life, he had to smile. But the amusement drained as the implications of the message sank in.
“There’s a surprise,” Hunter muttered.
Hunter blanched. “No. Not the duplex.”
Hunter shook his head and snorted.
Her signature was the same as always, wide and bold.
Hunter looked up and stared in displeasure at the rambling, creaking duplex he’d just inherited. The old pile, although charming with its chipped brick front and white-paned windows, looked as if it was on its last legs. Shutters hung crookedly on both levels. Paint peeled off in massive chunks.
A mess, he decided, and he most definitely did not like messes. Any one of his lab techs, whom he regularly terrorized without meaning to, would attest to that.
Someone in the upstairs apartment had a stereo blaring out country blues, rattling the already rattled-looking windows. Probably the same someone singing off-key, loudly.
Because he knew the bottom apartment was empty, he let himself in. Large, airy rooms. Perfect size, very imperfect condition. Sneezing, he shook his head. Dust covered everything, including the various pieces of furniture his aunt had left. Art Deco mixed with cheap antique reproductions. Hunter shuddered.
What would he do with such a place? Demolition seemed appropriate. Yet he couldn’t stay forever in the small hotel NASA had provided. But a house would only remind him, cruelly, of his own failings, and of a pain much better buried in his past. His dear, sweet aunt had meant well by leaving him this place, but he couldn’t possibly keep it.
Two bathrooms. And after all the tea he’d consumed at the luncheon, it couldn’t hurt to check the plumbing. He hated those obligatory events, designed for the sole purpose of charming rich women out of their money, all in the name of research. But much as he disliked them, he always attended. As head of his department he had no choice, plus he had the dubious honor of being called the Devil of the entire floor.
In other words, he could charm the last penny out of a miser, especially when the goal was to fund his research.
Upstairs, the country music still rocked the building, disturbing his thoughts. At least the singing had stopped. But he’d no sooner stepped into a bathroom and unzipped than a creak had him glancing up. Above him, the ceiling panel lifted and two curious brown eyes peered down at him.
Indignation left him stunned, just for a second. Then the panel groaned warningly, and even he knew what that meant. Before he could react, a shrieking, laughing female landed on him, hitting him square in the chest.
Instinctively, he caught her, then tightened his tenuous hold. “What the -”
“Oh, my!” the wriggling mass of woman exclaimed, pushing hair from her face. She blinked up at him. “Oh, my.”
Hunter considered himself a calm man, rational and even-tempered at all times. He had nerves of steel, courtesy of years of researching, preparing, and flying experiments on NASA missions most people didn’t even know existed. But nothing about him felt particularly calm and rational now, not when he stood before a toilet with his pants unzipped, holding a woman he didn’t know. Turning, he unceremoniously dumped her on the hideous black- and-white-checkered linoleum. From above, Hank Williams continued to croon at an ear-shattering decibel level.
The woman let out another startled little laugh and straightened, turning toward him with wide eyes. “Oh, my goodness.”
Her vocabulary certainly wasn’t anything to remark on, but her manners were. He opened his mouth but nothing came out except his own hot breath, so he closed it again, positively speechless.
It didn’t matter, she apparently didn’t have the same problem.
“Oh, no,” she cried, brushing white plaster dust off her short, tight black vinyl skirt. “Look… I got this all dirty. They’ll never take it back now.” Sighing dramatically, she looked at him. “I run a boutique, you see. And I just got this great shipment, but I don’t think this works, not really. Now, maybe if it were red…” She bit her lip, deciding, while Hunter just stood there, flabbergasted. “No, not even if it were red,” she decided.
“Who are you?” he managed to say.
Smiling, she stuck out a hand. “Trisha Malloy. I live upstairs. Did you just rent this place?”
“Not exactly.” He tipped his head back. Yep, the hole was still there, gaping. She’d definitely fallen out of there. “Do you always spy on people when they’re in the bathroom?”
“Oh, no!” she assured him, putting her hands over her chest for emphasis. White dust on her hands, probably more plaster dust, left imprints on the leopard-print crop top she wore. “It’s just that I didn’t expect anyone. This