Waiting For Nick Page 1

Chapter One

She was a woman with a mission. Her move from West Virginia to New York had a series of purposes, outlined carefully in her mind. She would find the perfect place to live, become a success in her chosen field, and get her man.

Preferably, but not necessarily, in that order.

Frederica Kimball was, she liked to think, a flexible woman.

As she walked down the sidewalk on the East Side in the early-spring twilight, she thought of home. The house in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, with her parents and siblings, was, to Freddie's mind, the perfect place to live. Rambling, noisy, full of music and voices.

She doubted that she could have left it if she hadn't known she would always be welcomed back with open arms.

It was true that she had been to New York many times, and had ties there, as well, but she already missed the familiar—her own room, tucked into the second story of the old stone house, the love and companionship of her siblings, her father's music, her mother's laugh.

But she wasn't a child any longer. She was twenty-four, and long past the age to begin to make her own.

In any case, she reminded herself, she was very much at home in Manhattan. After all, she'd spent the first few years of her life there. And much of her life in the years after had included visits—but all with family, she acknowledged.

Well, this time, she thought, straightening her shoulders, she was on her own. And she had a job to do. The first order of business would be to convince a certain Nicholas LeBeck that he needed a partner.

The success and reputation he'd accumulated as a composer over the past few years would only increase with her beside him as his lyricist. Already, just by closing her eyes and projecting, she could envision the LeBeck-Kimball name in lights on the Great White Way. She had only to let her imagination bloom to have the music they would write flow like a river through her head.

Now all she had to do, she thought with a wry smile, was convince Nick to see and hear the same thing.

She could, if necessary, use family loyalty to persuade him. They were, in a roundabout way; semi-cousins.

Kissing cousins, she thought now, while her eyes lighted with a smile. That was her final and most vital mission. Before she was done, Nick would fall as desperately in love with her as she was, had always been, with him.

She'd waited ten years for him, and that, to Freddie's mind, was quite long enough.

It's past time, Nick, she decided, tugging on the hem of her royal blue blazer, to face your fate.

Still, nerves warred with confidence as she stood outside the door of Lower the Boom. The popular neighborhood bar belonged to Zack Muldoon, Nick's brother. Stepbrother, technically, but Freddie's family had always been more into affection than terminology. The fact that Zack had married Freddie's stepmother's sister made the Stanislaski-Muldoon-Kimball-LeBeck families one convoluted clan.

Freddie's longtime dream had been to forge another loop in that family chain, linking her and Nick.

She took a deep breath, tugged on her blazer again, ran her hands over the reddish-gold mop of curls she could never quite tame and wished once, hopelessly, that she had just a dash of the Stanislaskis' exotic good looks. Then she reached for the door.

She'd make do with what she had, and make damned sure it was enough.

The air in Lower the Boom carried the yeasty scent of beer, overlaid with the rich, spicy scent of marinara. Freddie decided that Rio, Zack's longtime cook, must have a pasta special going. On the juke, Dion was warning his fellow man about the fickle heart of Runaround Sue.

Everything was there, everything in place, the cozy paneled walls, the seafaring motif of brass bells and nautical gear, the long, scarred bar and the gleaming glassware. But no Nick. Still, she smiled as she walked to the bar and slid onto a padded stool.

"Buy me a drink, sailor?"

Distracted, Zack glanced up from drawing a draft. His easy smile widened instantly into a grin. "Freddie—hey! I didn't think you were coming in until the end of the week."

"I like surprises."

"I like this kind." Expertly Zack slid the mug of beer down the bar so that it braked between the waiting hands of his patron. Then he leaned over, caught Freddie's face in both of his big hands and gave her a loud, smacking kiss. "Pretty as ever."

"You, too."

And he was, she thought. In the ten years since she'd met him, he'd only improved, like good whiskey, with age. The dark hair was still thick and curling, and the deep blue eyes were magnetic. And his face, she thought with a sigh. Tanned, tough, with laugh lines only enhancing its character and charm.

More than once in her life, Freddie had wondered how it was that she was surrounded by physically stunning people. "How's Rachel?"

"Her Honor is terrific."

Freddie's lips curved at the use of the title, and the affection behind it. Zack's wife—her aunt—was now a criminal court judge. "We're all so proud of her. Did you see the trick gavel Mama sent her? The one that makes this crashing-glass sound when you bop something with it?"

"Seen it?" His grin was quick and crooked. "She bops me with it regularly. It's something, having a judge in the family." His eyes twinkled. "And she looks fabulous in those black robes."

"I bet. How about the kids?"

"The terrible trio? They're great. Want a soda?"

Amused, Freddie tilted her head. "What, are you going to card me, Zack? I'm twenty-four, remember?"

Rubbing his chin, he studied her. The small build and china-doll skin would probably always be deceiving. If he hadn't known her age, as well as the age of his own children, he would have asked for ID.

"I just can't take it in. Little Freddie, all grown up."

"Since I am—" she crossed her legs and settled in "—why don't you pour me a white wine?"

"Coming up." Long experience had him reaching behind him for the proper glass without looking. "How're your folks, the kids?"

"Everybody's good, and everyone sends their love." She took the glass Zack handed her and lifted it in a toast. "To family."

Zack tapped a squat bottle of mineral water against her glass. "So what are your plans, honey?"

"Oh, I've got a few of them." She smiled into her wine before she sipped. And wondered what he would think if she mentioned that the biggest plan of her life was to woo his younger brother. "The first is to find an apartment."