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Chapter 1

The nose of the Mustang was right up against the barrier that separated the scenic overlook from the Pacific Ocean thirty feet below, providing a 360 degree view of paradise, only the sounds of the surf below and the gulls circling above for company. With the top down it was as good as sitting on the barrier itself only more comfortable.
   I unwrapped my Italian sandwich reeking with garlic, onions, peppers, provolone, prosciutto, and salami, all good things not to be eaten in company, and took a huge bite, relishing the chunk of pepper it included.
   He came around the barrier, rising up out of the steep slope of scrub brush, and vaulted over the passenger door with ease, sliding right in beside me, leaning close over the console. His right hand slid under my shirt, something cold pressing between my breasts.
   “Kiss me,” he said, sliding his left hand around my shoulders. “This is a knife. I will use it if I have to.” He tapped the blade against my chest.
   Stunned beyond belief, I opened my mouth and pushed the chunk of garlic laden sandwich to the forefront between my teeth.
   He laughed out loud, surprising both of us. “Chew first, and swallow”.

   I obeyed but my joy in the sandwich had disappeared along with my saliva. I swallowed several times, trying to choke down the dry bread. He nestled his head into my shoulder and I felt his lips working along my neck, his breath warm against my skin. He was shirtless, his bare chest pressed along my arm, his skin cool against mine. The cold steel blade above my belly was warming, too.
   I heard rustling in front of the car, heard scraping and scuffling and heavy breathing, but his head kept me from seeing anything. 
   “Kiss me,” he said again and pressed his mouth against mine. His lips were firm, his breath warm along my cheek.
   There was a thump, something banged against the metal barrier and as suddenly as he had appeared, two more men clambered over the railing.
   One of them lost his balance and lurched against the Mustang, shaking the car. I could hear them even if I couldn’t see them.
   I was trying to breathe with his mouth pressed to mine.
   “Hey!” said the man with the knife, barely lifting his head to glare at the intruders.
   “Get a room,” replied the bigger of the men, brushing foxtails and bits of weed from his pant legs. “Where did he go?”
   My attacker leaned back a little bit, the hand holding the knife pressing a little harder against my breast bone.
   “Do I look like a give a shit where your buddy is?” 
   The big man had the grace to look a little embarrassed, noting the hand under my shirt.

   “Sorry, folks,” he sighed, “didn’t mean to interrupt. This is not the safest place for, um, parking. Did you hear anything, see anyone?”
   My guy turned his head slightly, rubbing his nose along my cheek, tenderly kissing my neck.
   “I only have eyes for one thing tonight,” he said softly, still loud enough for the men to hear.
   The second man shouldered around the big guy. “Come on, he had to have taken the long way around. I told you we lost him. Let’s get the car.”
   The bigger man mumbled something I couldn’t hear and backed a few steps before he turned and jogged to catch up with his partner who was already half way across the parking area, heading for the road. I could hear their footsteps fade away.
   Afraid to move I sat there, trying not to breathe too loud, painfully aware of the man beside me, his left arm still curled around my shoulders, his right fist cradling the handle of the knife that lay heavily against my skin. The silence spread around us and the air began to change color as the sun slid towards the darkening sea.
   A minute later he leaned back, shifting into the passenger seat and pulling the knife from under my shirt. I dared to take a deep breath, aware of how tight my throat felt, trying not to cry, willing the muscles in my neck to relax.
   “Sorry,” he said, turning in the seat to look over my shoulder, back towards the road. “I think they’re gone.” He brought his eyes back to meet mine. “I had no choice, I really am sorry,” he sighed. With a guilty look he pulled a metal comb from under my shirt, turning it back and forth before putting it in his back pocket. He looked around the car.

   He lifted my sweat shirt with the zip front from the back seat and pulled it into his lap, turning it so he could slip his arms into the sleeves. I prefer oversize sweatshirts but on him this one was way too tight. The sleeves were ready to split and he couldn’t zip the front but he managed to pull it almost closed.
   “I’m going to have to borrow this. It’s going to get chilly when the sun goes down and I have a long way to go. Don’t want my bare skin to show.”
   Finding my voice for the first time since his abrupt appearance I said, “Take it, it’s yours.”
   Although it was darker now, with the sun setting, I could clearly see dark eyes, almost black in this light, or lack of it, crinkling at the corners as he smiled. The setting sun lit his light colored hair with sparkles of orange.
   “I really am sorry,” he said again, opening the car door, “I had to scare you to keep you quiet. Those are not very nice men.” With one foot already out of the car, he turned and hooked his arm around my neck, pulling me close again. The console bit into my rib cage.
   “Have to say, I am not sorry about that kiss. Lady, you know how to kiss” and he kissed me again, just as thoroughly. I responded immediately, leaning into him. If kissing him meant I lived then I could kiss with the best of them. It was a long kiss.
   “Take care, babe,” he said against my lips, finally pulling his head back. 

   And with that he was gone, back over the side, lost to view in seconds, the sounds of his progress fading until all I could hear was the surf below.
   I looked down, where I had squeezed all the spicy fillings for my sandwich into a wet mess in my lap.

~ ~ ~

   When your work hours are seven to seven it’s hard to find time to get away from the job. I found buying a sandwich, a soda and sitting at the view point to watch the sun sink into the sea a relaxing way to end the day.
   Not any more. He just ruined it. Unless the top is up and the doors are locked. Maybe a pit bull in the back seat.

Chapter 2

Managing a self-storage facility is never going to be glamorous. All those television shows about the treasures to be found and the fortunes to be made from buying up abandoned storage must be in towns more prosperous than Monarch Beach or Jade Beach. In the time I have been in this business I have seen three units sell for enough to make a profit.
   Think about it.
   If you had something valuable in storage, and you knew you were going to be short on the rent, wouldn’t you, logically, take out the valuables?
   If nothing else, sell them for the rent to save the unit. Right?
   Most of the units that come up for sale cost more to clean out than the contents can cover. Paying someone to haul the debris to the dump so the unit can be cleaned and rented again is expensive. That’s the guy that makes money.
   Most of the units that do sell go to dealers, those with a place to sell the assorted pre owned merchandise, usually old clothes. Those with a permanent yard sale or second hand store may eventually turn over their investment.
   Me? Not worth my time.
   The attraction to managing a facility with on site management is the free rent, which is not free. Rent is charged monthly, then credited on your paycheck. You never see the money so your rent is never late. Utilities are free.

   The pay is usually much less than minimum wage if you work it out hourly.
   Couples are preferred because if each one works forty hours a week, eighty hours are covered without having to pay overtime by staggering the hours. It’s a hard job to get and an even harder one to leave. You never save enough money to pay first, last and deposits on a new place.
   Read stuck.
   In my case, I was lucky.
   My former husband split for a more glamorous life, one that did not include a wife or a storage facility. Ironic, since he was the one who wanted the job.
   I had turned an unprofitable mess into a profitable business in the year we had been there and the owners wanted to keep me. I also had my veteran’s benefits from my twenty years in the Army so I was comfortable with the situation.
   When Sporticus, my ex, left, the owners agreed to keep me as a single. They also approved a part timer for weekends, giving me those off. By hiring a guy for weekends, I could assign him any heavy work I couldn’t do. My reward for a job well done.
   The owners were a partnership - a father and his two grown sons. The Murphy’s, father and sons, were great employers. We had an excellent working relationship - I took care of their business and they stayed out of mine. As long as the facility continued to make a profit they left me alone.

Besides Beach Storage, the family owned a tool rental business, the latter including everything from card tables to moving vans, lawn mowers to tents. In addition they owned a local landmark, the Gem of the Ocean, which sounds exotic while in actuality it’s a beer and pizza place, the local watering hole in the neighboring Monarch Beach. Locals like to tell you they’re going to the Gem because it sounds like gym, giving you the impression they are going to work out when actually the only lifting they intend to do involves slices of pizza and beer mugs.

   The older son, Paul, my immediate supervisor, the one I called if I needed something, managed the tool rental business. He could be found Tuesday through Saturday behind the counter or lazing in the sun just outside. You know him or at least one like him.
   He’s the guy that hits forty and suddenly sprouts a ponytail and gold chains. The top two buttons on his shirts never close. Half the time a sporty new car takes up residence in his driveway, always the life of the party.
   I’ve heard Paul is known to party pretty hard south of us, keeping his escapades away from town.
   As long as my paychecks were on time and didn’t bounce, I could care less.
   I preferred the patriarch of the clan, Shamus. He was a dead ringer for Santa Claus in both attitude and appearance. Short and stout, crowned with a billowing mop of snow white hair and a sparkling white beard he was everyone’s idea of the perfect Grandpa.

He managed the Gem although he could be found most mornings at Kelly’s Diner in Monarch, breakfasting with his cronies, old timers and retirees that gathered there every morning, no matter the weather, to solve the world’s problems.

   The locals called him Papa Smurf. He spent as much time at the diner as he did in the office, leaving most of the business in the hands of the bartenders and barmaids. The younger son, Patrick, I had yet to meet.
   Patrick, known locally as Trick, for his ability to avoid any attachment to the female population. According to the locals he had dated and dumped every female within the town limits between the ages of 20 and 50.
   His dating record reached legendary status among the old timers, who counted him up there with Brad Pitt when it came to the ladies.
   My dealings with men being of the negative variety, I didn’t give a fig if I ever met him.
   One thing did concern me. The family occupied half a dozen units at my facility, using them to store inventory for the other businesses. One was designated for family belongings, such as Christmas decorations, seasonal displays, that type of thing.
   Colleen, the matriarch, had two units for herself to accommodate her personal collection of whatever. She was always on the lookout for an empty unit she could confiscate and use to extend her storage space.
   I was under threat of death from all three male Murphy’s to keep her from adding another unit. It led to a running game of hide the empties. If she found one she promptly moved in, grabbing something, anything from her car or unit and taking possession.

  The perpetual game of hide and seek added a little spice to the day.
   Soft job, yes, one that requires a certain type of person – combination accountant, salesman, landscaper and all around handy man. Someone who is comfortable alone, at ease with long periods of solitude and at the same time sociable with all age groups.
   Still, it was long hours. Although I might have no customers all day, I still had to be present in case someone needed help. 
   Surprising how many people lost their keys and could not access their belongings, expecting me to have an extra key since we provided a free lock with each rental. 
   Many wanted me to keep an extra key on file in the office so they didn’t have to keep track of their keys. 
   No way. Sure lawsuit there by claiming I used their key to garner their assets and sell them.
   The people you meet in this job are a true cross section of America, more so than any other business. From the homeless, looking for a place to keep their cans and the things their shopping carts won’t hold, to the millionaires remodeling their palaces up on the hill. One good thing about people – they will not get rid of their stuff unless forced. Even then it’s a crap shoot. 
   One of my customers, an elderly gentleman, rented a small space to keep his books – four boxes of them. I know because I helped him unload them, afraid his arm would snap off just getting them out of the trunk of his car.


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