Fasya stepped outside, onto the red brick patio of Gerard’s, a lovely beachside restaurant with an utterly magnificent view of the ocean. If there was nothing else to look forward to on this day, Fasya was grateful for the calming waves beyond.
She scooted around a few early guests and found a wooden table closest to the rail surrounding the covered patio. The soft breeze was perfect for soothing her mind, and she sat down, careful to keep her knee-length skirt free of wrinkles. Fasya propped her hands under her chin and sulked. Why did Mr. Gerard have to retire? He could not sell the restaurant yet. It held so many memories for her.
Fasya unsnapped her purse and took out an old worn photo. She gazed at her mother with sad recollection, imagining the day when she sat next to her; both of them laughed without a care in the world. She felt so lost without her mother in her life. Fasya still could not believe it had been six years since somebody murdered her mother. Her father practically stopped speaking to her. Everything changed on that day.
“I guess you heard that somebody is interested in the place,” her friend Hanum said and sat down across from her. The short redhead with daring green eyes had worked at Gerard’s since Fasya moved to Key Biscayne seven months ago.
“Yes,” Fasya sighed and shook her head. She looked around, admiring the exotic plant life that the new owners would throw away. Why did they want to make the restaurant into a souvenir shop? There were so many of those already. This was a historical building. At least, it was to Fasya. She had visited here every summer since she could remember.
“I’m sorry, Fasya. I wish there was some way I could help.”
“Well, if I could lease that hotel on the coast, then I would have enough money to buy this place myself. The people who are looking at it have not put down any earnest money yet. That means it is still available.”
“Has anyone called about the hotel yet?”
Fasya shook her head. “No...no one,” she answered and slipped the picture back into her purse. “I have leased smaller homes but no one has asked about the hotel. My company might have to lower the price if somebody doesn’t ask about it...”
“Wow,” Hanum interrupted, forgetting the sensitive topic that she and Fasya were discussing. “Check out the gorgeous men who just walked inside. They must be lost or something.” Hanum pointed behind where Fasya sat.
Fasya turned around. Three men in the finest dark suits walked past several tables and sat one table down. Were they the people who wanted to buy Gerard’s? Fasya’s eyes would not look away even as the breeze picked up and whipped her long hair in front.
Two of the men had dark hair and one had light. One of the men’s dark hair was shorter than the other, neatly combed to meet the back of his neck. She watched a couple of stray hairs fly out of place and noticed how serious his brown eyes scanned the place. Was he meeting someone? If not, he seemed strangely suspicious. They could not have wanted to buy the restaurant. Men like that were not interested in a souvenir shop.
“Too bad I have a boyfriend,” Hanum pouted and moved a few strands behind her ear.
Fasya smiled but did not look at Hanum. “Those men must already be taken.”
As she spoke, the man she stared at looked directly in her eyes. His gaze almost seemed troubled though his expression remained stoic, giving off no hint about what he thought. There was no smile; rather he simply returned her stare.
Fasya smiled as a blush spread over her cheeks; then she turned around fast, embarrassed that he caught her. The two dark haired men reminded her of the men who used to visit her father. They wore serious faces, never smiled and showed no emotion. Fasya felt disappointed.
“I don’t see a single ring on any of their fingers. I might have a boyfriend,” Hanum gave a devious grin and pointed at Fasya. “But I haven’t seen you go out with a single man since you’ve been here. Why don’t I introduce you to the table? One of them is staring at the back of your head.”
“What?” Fasya peeked back to see the man’s eyes still fixed. “No, Hanum. My father would just chase him away as he did with anyone else.”
“Him, huh?” Hanum smiled. “You noticed him too. Go introduce yourself, Fasya.”
“I’ll pass,” Fasya said.
“Fasya, did your father ever give you a reason why he didn’t want you to date?”
“No...I tried to ask several times but he would just change the subject.”
“But you are a grown woman who takes care of herself now. I don’t think those rules still apply.”
Fasya let out a frustrated breath. Her face felt hot. The men could probably hear them talking. “Another time, Hanum.”
Fasya stood to escape the discussion. There was no reason to introduce herself with her father’s strict rules. Anytime that she brought up the subject of dating, her father absolutely refused to listen. It was true that she had graduated and lived on her own now, but his ways remained deep inside her head. It was as though he looked over her shoulder. Fasya did not want to take a chance and get her hopes up again.
“I am going to talk to Mr. Gerard while you serve those men. I want to know more about these potential buyers.” Fasya excused herself and stood. “And I wouldn’t keep them waiting very long, Hanum.”
It was about time that the worker at the other table decided to get up and do what she was supposed to do. Tora did not like to wait for a server to attend to him. Farrent was even worse about a worker who talked on the job.
On the other hand, he watched the other woman at the table. She was dressed nice for this type of restaurant. Everyone else wore casual clothing; however, she graced a silky blouse and business skirt. Her smile was genuine. Her expression struck him as sweet. He had never seen a woman smile at him simply to smile. The conversation between her and the worker amused him. He found her blushing cheeks refreshing.
Tora stared at the patio door long after she disappeared. He was lost in his thoughts. He had not realized that the server stood at their table, waiting for him to acknowledge her.
“Good morning. My name is Hanum. What brings you into Gerard’s today?”
“Business,” Tora replied but did not elaborate. He hated when restaurant staff asked him personal questions. Did they really expect him to tell them his business?
“Okay...did you men want me to bring you some freshly brewed coffee?”
Farrent’s brow rose. “Are you implying that you serve coffee that is not freshly brewed?”
“No,” Hanum answered right away.
“Yes,” Tora interrupted before Farrent could say another word. “Bring us all coffee. We are also ready to order.”
“Go ahead.” Hanum took out her small notepad and pen.
The three men gave their choices and Hanum disappeared inside of the main part of the restaurant, coming back out briefly to give them their coffee. Coffee was exactly what Tora needed.
“Farrent, give me the number to the agent,” he ordered. “I want to set up a time while we eat.”
“Do you want me to call?”
“No,” Tora shook his head. “I will call this time.”
Tora took the number from Farrent and pulled out his phone. He found it odd that the number had an Orlando area code. He expected it to be local or at least closer to Key Biscayne than it was. That meant the agent did not work for a local realty company.
“Hello,” said the voice on the other end. It belonged to a woman – a young woman. Her sweet voice belonged to someone much too young to sell real estate. At least, she did not sound like anyone he ever dealt with. He actually found her voice soothing.
“My name is Tora Moloch. I am calling about a piece of property with a hotel on the beach. Is it still available?”
“Yes, did you have any questions about the listing?”
“No questions; I have seen the pictures and stopped in front of the building earlier. Since I am in Key Biscayne today, I would like to look inside. I won’t have any other day available until next week.”
“Of course, I am available until one this afternoon. I could meet you at a restaurant named Gerard’s. I am there now. Are you familiar with the area?”
“Gerard’s,” Tora looked at Farrent. “I am fairly familiar and I can meet you at the restaurant in...thirty-five minutes.” Tora smirked down at his phone.
“Great, I will wait for you on the patio until you arrive.”
“Perfect, I’ll be there,” Tora clicked off the phone as Hanum set down their plates.
“What was that about?” asked Farrent after Hanum left.
“Well, the agent has requested that we meet her here. As a matter of fact, she is here now and will wait for us to arrive in thirty-five minutes.”
Farrent gave him a look. “What are you up to?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tora said and took another drink. He thought about the patrons he passed in the restaurant. That blonde woman was the only person dressed in anything remotely formal. The agent must have been her.
As if reading his thoughts, Fasya came back out and sat a different table this time. It was one closer to the restaurant’s wall and faced the door. She opened a tablet and scrolled through her screen as she sipped something out of a cup. She was preparing for her potential clients and seemed well organized, but the next moment, she gazed around the beach.
“She is a very young agent, Tora. One minute she looks focused; the next, she looks lost,” Farrent pointed out. “How do we know we can trust her? The listing never stated what real estate company she worked for.”
“Child or not, we already agreed to see the property. This agent has the only property close to what I have been looking for.”
“I say we get back inside the Escalade and drive back to Miami. Who recommended this place to you anyway? Look at her; she is playing with the hem of her blouse. She’s nervous.”
“Then we will use those nerves to our advantage,” Tora said, unaffected by Farrent’s sarcasm.
“If I was the realty company, I would have never placed such an expensive piece of property in her hands. It would serve them right if she sold it for any less than eight million. What kind of realty company is this?”
“She seems motivated. Notice how she is waiting for us to arrive even though I told her it would be over half an hour until we did.”
“Yes, I can see her too; but I think it’s because nobody else has looked at the place. She is probably eager to get rid of it and collect her commission.”
“Farrent, I want this property – got it.”
“Perfectly,” Farrent emptied the last drink of his coffee and stood. “Well, let’s get this over with so we can go home and start looking for another one. I just saw a listing for something near Orlando.”
“Too far north,” Tora sneered as he scooted out his chair with Brett following suit; then all three walked towards the table where Fasya sat.
“Fasya Rameer,” Tora said, already knowing it was she.
“Yes,” she answered. What could these men want with her?
“Tora Moloch,” he replied. “I called about the property on the beach.”
His outstretched hand did not register with her for a minute. The three men stood much more fearsome than when they sat. Did they know who she was all along? Had they been sizing her up? Clearly, they wanted the upper hand when it came to negotiations. How unfair. They had resorted to intimidation.
“How did you know I would be here?” Fasya asked.
“We didn’t,” Tora stated. “We happened to stop in and called you from here. Your type of dress gave away the rest.”
“Okay,” she mumbled. That could be since many other restaurants opened for dinner. “Mr. Moloch,” Fasya finally came to her senses and stood. She should have shaken his hand right away. It would not be a very good first impression.
Tora received the hand she held out to him. How petite her fingers felt in his grip. How fragile she seemed as she returned his gaze. He quickly dismissed the observation and pointed at the two men beside him.
“This is Frank Paolini. You can call him Farrent.” Farrent had wavy dark hair and merely nodded at Fasya. “And the man next to him is Brett,” Tora pointed to the light-haired man. Brett smiled but did not try to shake her hand. “Now that we have met each other, we would like to see the inside of the hotel before we make any further decisions.”
“Of course, please follow me.” Fasya nodded and closed her tablet. She could not believe they had no questions. They just wanted to get right down to business. Most of her clients had at least a page worth of notes.
When they reached the parking area, Tora shook his head and stopped. “I will need to go in my vehicle.” He started walking in the opposite direction, making Fasya follow him instead.
“Mr. Moloch, what is wrong with my car. It is my responsibility to drive my clients.”
“Yes, I know. What do you drive?”
“A Civic,” she answered.
“Not safe enough,” Tora kept walking. “We are taking mine just as a precaution.”
What did he mean that her car was not safe enough? Was he expecting her to have a collision? Why was he making this a difficult task for a place eight minutes away?
As Brett unlocked the Escalade, Tora opened the passenger door and waited for Fasya to step inside. Fasya froze. How did she know she could trust these men? They were virtual strangers in suits who were supposedly interested in a property she was leasing. Should she take them at word?
“Do we scare you?” Tora asked.
“No,” she lied and stepped inside the vehicle. She had to take that risk. They were the first people who asked about the hotel. If she did not go, she would lose Gerard’s to some other buyer.
“No,” Tora mocked with shock.
Fasya finally looked over and sighed, speaking freely. “Should I be, Mr. Moloch?” she asked. It was obvious that these men made her uneasy.
“Maybe,” he joked. His word came out casual and relaxed as he crossed his leg, making her more stressed than before. Tora knew he intimidated her.
“Well, if you don’t want to see the property, just...let me out here. I can walk back to Gerard’s,” she declared. Yet even before she fully spoke the words, Fasya was uncertain by what she said. She did not really want them to drop her off in the middle of the island. She did not want to blow her one chance to lease either. Why did she not hold her tongue?
Tora leaned towards her and turned her chin. His fingers were gentle; however, his expression grew stern. “Do you speak to all of your clients with that sort of tone? You told me that you would show me the inside of the hotel, and I will get what I came for. I’m not here to waste your time, and you certainly won’t waste mine. Is that clear, Ms. Rameer?”
His voice seemed calm, but Fasya sensed the quiet warning behind his words. Tora was close – way too close for her to answer? His fingers were touching her chin. She could actually feel his breath against her face. It made her flush as a slight chill ran down her neck. Was it fear that she felt or an attraction to the man? She could not tell the difference. Both would put her on edge.
Fasya’s blue eyes reflected fear. They stared at him, reflecting his own ability to make every person he encountered to cower. Tora closed his eyes; his lips pressed together in a tight line, being dissatisfied that he scared her. Why did he care? He never gave it a seconds thought before. For some reason, this woman caused him guilt. Perhaps it was her perfect aura of innocence coercing him to feel an interest when he should not encourage his own thoughts. Even if she was a feasible interest, she was out of place with his company. She would never be able to handle mafia life.
“Just show us the land. You aren’t the sort of person who has anything to worry about with us anyway.” He gently lowered his hand and returned to the spot by the window for the rest of the few minute’s ride.