“How old were you?”
This answer raised London’s brow. “That’s pretty young. I bet you were so excited, thought you were the man!”
“I was an insecure boy living in a man’s body and a man’s world. Until that year I felt anything but desirable. I was short, skinny, with legs, arms and a head too big for my body. Then I had a six-inch growth spurt, my voice deepened, I grew a hair or two—my whole body changed. But inside, I was still that jacked-up little kid. So the experience was scarier than I would ever have admitted at the time. Some life lessons come much more quickly than they should.”
“Give me a for instance.”
“My tutor was a young twentysomething who had a sister. We were in the same grade and equally curious. She began to join him during my lessons. After he taught me equations in math and science, we went into the bedroom for lessons in anatomy.”
“Knowing how you operate, you probably led the way.”
“No. I talked a good game back then but didn’t know nothing.” He glanced at her and said a bit shyly, “She was my first.”
“Did you get your degree?”
“Yes.” He paused and then added, “In both classes.”
He exited the highway, turned off a main street and continued up a curvy road that led into a park. Glimpses of the water as they’d made certain turns let London know they were close the ocean. It was a perfect day to be there. The sun shone bright and high in the sky, making it feel warmer than the sixty-one degrees the car thermostat registered. He turned off a main street and continued up a curvy road that led into a park.
“What’s this park? I’ve never been here.”
Ace smiled, seeming proud of himself that he’d treated her to something new. “It’s called Lands End.”
“That’s a strange name.”
“You’ll see why when we finish our hike.”
“Ace, I’m not hiking in these shoes.”
“Yeah, I thought you’d try and punk out on me. But I’m prepared.”
He jumped out of the car, went around to the trunk and came back with a canvas tote in one hand and a decorated recycled bag in the other. He got back inside.
“What is this?”
“Just open it, London.”
With eyes still on him she slid back the zipper. Inside the tote was a pair of brand-new tennis shoes and a Windbreaker.
“These look like they’ll fit.” She removed her boots and put them on. Perfect. “How’d you know my size?”
“You’re the head model for our women’s couture line. I know everything about you.”
London chuckled. “You know next to nothing.”
But looking out for her like that? Good move.
“What’s in the other bag?”
Instead of answering her, he exited the car, came around to her side and opened the door. “Let’s go.”
“I guess you’re not going to tell me.”
“No, you’ll have to wait.”
He locked the car and took her hand. For the next half hour she followed his lead. He took them to the water’s edge, past the ruins of a nineteenth-century Victorian bathhouse and through a tunnel where echoes of water crashing against rocks bounced off the stone walls. When they reached a stairway toward the California Coastal Trail, London was thankful for sneakers. The hike up was steep but not overly arduous. A walk through a grove of cypress trees led to a labyrinth and craggy bluffs with stunning thirty-mile views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and the city. The picturesque scene before her and the inventive man beside her made it well worth the climb. Ace’s thinking, she discovered, was much like his company’s name—definitely out of the box.
She wandered over to a cliff facing the bridge, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It had been a long time since she’d been this physical outside of bed. Blessed with a fast metabolism and good genes, London had a naturally high energy level and never watched what she ate. Back in high school, she’d begrudgingly participated in sports. That was probably the last time she’d done anything that came close to the hike they’d just made up the mountain. Though Ace was probably a factor, she reasoned, the strenuous walk was the cause of her rapid heartbeat, the exhilaration of simply being alive.