Conrad by Katie Dowe

Chapter 1

“The local newspapers are raving about the apartment buildings downtown.” Carl looked up as his uncle strode into the office, the device in his hands. "I do believe that this is the best venture DeLise Developer has ever undertaken." His slate gray eyes, an inheritance from his uncle and his mother, shone with excitement.

The twenty-five-year-old had been working at the billion-dollar company for the past three years since he left college and had worked his way up the ladder.

He had started out working on the various construction sites learning the ropes at his uncle's insistence and had finally been appointed to his own office.

Now he was in charge of the PR department and also dealt with the IT department. He was very good at what he did.

Carl was the heir apparent as Conrad Delisser was a confirmed bachelor.

Conrad was now fifty-four years old and had never settled down with anyone, not since the tragedy some twenty years ago.

He rarely smiled and when he did, the smile did not quite reach his beautiful slate gray eyes. He was over 6'4" tall with broad shoulders and a muscled body that had been toned and chiseled from his hard work in the construction business.

Conrad Jeremiah Delisser had started out building houses when he was only nineteen, finding his niche in creating and building and was very good with his hands.

He had gone off to college to achieve his Masters in real estate and was an expert in creating blueprints.

He had first come up with the idea of a 'compact apartment' where space is utilized to the fullest and had risen to become one of the top developers in the country.

He worked tirelessly and still went on site where he was known to pick up a shovel or any other equipment to work alongside his men.

"That's great news," he lifted his dark brown head threaded lightly through with gray and gave his nephew an absent smile. "But I am afraid we have a problem with the Mid-Level Plaza."

"What sort of problem?" Carl quickly checked his desktop to see if he had missed anything.

"The work has halted due to most of the workmen being sick."

"That's not good."

"I know."

"What are we going to do?"

"Call a meeting with the construction crew working on the store fronts downtown. We might have to switch gears," he pressed the earpiece and listened. "I will be right there." He directed his gaze to the man sitting around the desk. "I have a meeting. We will talk when I get back."

Carl watched the strikingly handsome man stride across the room and close the doors behind him. He was well aware of the responsibility that rested on his shoulders.

His uncle had gained his wealth and power when he was in his thirties and had risen even more so over the years.

Conrad had supported his sister and her two kids even when her husband was alive and had sent both him and his sister through high school and college.

Debra was employed by the company as well and had her own office.

She was Conrad's assistant and guarded his office like a fierce she-bear, making sure that all his needs were met. They owed him everything and showed their gratitude by making his life easier.

He had bought their mother a six-bedroom house in a very posh neighborhood where Carl and Debra still resided.

Conrad lived in an apartment not far from there and was hardly ever home, utilizing his time by working nonstop.

His sister, Valerie who was five years older than he was - had been trying to get him to socialize and find someone, to no avail.

Shaking his ash-blonde head, Carl went back to work.

*****

Conrad watched the smoke curl towards the ceiling and drift out into the open air, his interest one of a distracted kind. A bottle of bourbon was on the table and a half-eaten lasagna his sister had sent over for him.

A smile curved his lips as his mind drifted to Valerie Delisser-Blake.

She was five years his senior and one would think that she was much older than he was from the way she behaved, constantly trying to mother to him.

Maybe it was because they had lost their parents when he was twenty years old and the devastation had demolished them so much.

He had been going to college then and it had almost destroyed him.

She had insisted that he left the tiny house where he had stayed with them whenever he was home from college and come to live with her and her new husband.

Conrad had balked at the idea, not because he did not like William, but he had not wanted to cramp their style. Besides, the two-bedroom townhouse was hardly suitable for three adults.

But she and William had insisted, and he had stayed there until he finished college, leaving as soon as he did and plunging himself into construction work.

And he had gambled big. His lifelong dream had been to build houses - affordable houses for working-class people.

With unique storefronts that caught the eye with the bold designs and the gamble had paid off.

His eyes squinted at the smoke as he stared out into the velvety blue sky peppered with stars, a frown etched on his brow.

He was tired, more like bone-weary because he had been onsite for the past six hours and had only stumbled into his apartment a few minutes ago.

He had taken a quick shower and armed himself with the bottle of bourbon and the plate of food.

His housekeeper only came in four times a week and was usually gone before he got home, something he preferred.

His sister insisted on making sure he had a home-cooked meal waiting, even when he went out to dinner.

He puffed on a cigar, determined not to allow his mind to drift to other matters.

The pain had faded somewhat, but the grief was still there, especially for the son he would never have.

The boy would have been an adult now- biting off a sigh, he chugged the liquor from the bottle, appreciating the burning sensation in his gut.

He should go over to Barbara for the weekend and spend some time with her.

The sex was kind of lackluster, but for the short time he spent with her, it helped him forget.

He had turned fifty-four two months ago in July and was grateful that apart from a few aches and pains in his joints, no doubt due to the hard work he enjoyed doing every day, he was in excellent shape.

His primary care doctor who was also a friend had told him in grudging admiration that he looked like a man half his age. "I would like to know your secret. As a matter of fact, all of us would."

"Try lifting lumber and handling power drills every day," Conrad had told him dryly. "I have been active all my life."

"And your sex life?"

Conrad had stared at him with lifted brows. "Are you asking as a physician or as a friend?"

"More of a friend - a very curious one. I am fifty-three years old and I cannot get it up half the time."

"Dial down on the liquor and you could use some exercise. You have a paunch."

"Where would I find the time?" Donald had grumbled. "I am on call all hours of the day and night."

"You should find the time for physical activities and my sex life is admirable."

"Bastard,” his friend had grumbled good-naturedly. "Clean bill of health as usual."

But what good was it to him? He wondered bitterly. He was not in love with anyone and at his age, he doubted very much if it was going to happen now.

He was a middle-aged man in the prime of his life with no one to share it with.

*****

"I used the soap with the olive oil base that you recommended, and it is doing wonders for my skin," Geraldine Mason, the eighty-two-year-old society matriarch murmured as she made her way into the store, her beleaguered assistant behind her, carrying her packages. "I have been telling others about your wonderful shop and the natural beauty line you have to offer. Have you received a lot of calls?"

"The phones have been ringing off the hook and our delivery person has been run off his feet. We had to hire two more people. Geraldine, you are the best PR person one can ever have."

The woman beamed, her light green eyes perusing the store. "Now dear, I am going to Europe for two weeks. The family has a vineyard in Tuscany that needs my attention!" She shook her elegantly styled silver-gray hair, "some lazy grand nieces and nephews who think that working for a living is a crime.

I intend to go there to clean house and I would like to bring some of your products along with me. The face cream is so smooth and not heavy like all those pricey so-called anti-aging creams and makes my skin feels as light as a feather. I swear I am twenty years younger."

"We can package some and send them to your home. When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow, first thing." Geraldine gazed at the striking African American woman who did not look anywhere near her early fifties.

Elaine Reeves was 5"6' tall and was a size sixteen. Her hair had been cut short around her scalp and was in curls and waves that suited her rounded face. Her skin was a flawless cocoa brown mixed with light cream and she had a deep dimple on her left cheek.

Laughing dark brown eyes and a cute little nose as well as sensuous lips made for a beautiful package.

She was wearing a green and white dress with a tie at the waist. Large silver hoops swung near her cheeks each time she moved.

She was vivacious and friendly, and her warmth radiated throughout her body and was revealed in her face.

"I want to give you a gift," she snapped her fingers and the man stepped forward smartly.

"That's not necessary," Elaine protested.

The incorrigible woman had walked into her almost newly opened shop three months ago, her abrupt manner and habit of speaking her mind had had the salesgirls cowering.

But Elaine had charmed her and before long, Geraldine had unbent enough to be taken on the tour.

Before she had left, she had been armed with packages. The woman had called the next day to say that she had told her friends about the delightful store and Elaine should expect an influx of customers.

She had been right.

"I hope you are not going to offend me by refusing my gift," Geraldine gave her a hard stare as she took the oblong velvet box from the man.

"I would never dream of it," Elaine told her with a wide smile.

"Good. Now open it," she pressed the box into her hand.

Elaine released the clasp and stared spellbound at the dazzling sapphire and diamond bracelet nestling in the ruby red velvet. "Oh, my word."

"Find yourself a man and go somewhere fancy." Geraldine ordered. "A beautiful woman like you should not be alone."

"I have lots of friends."

The woman snorted indelicately. "When was the last time you had sex?"

Elaine burst out laughing, not in the least bit shocked at the woman's blunt and intrusive question.

"I think Obama was President."

Geraldine shook her head, her green eyes twinkling in pleasure.

She liked the woman mostly because of her vivacity but also the fact that Elaine never seemed to be shocked at anything she said.

She also liked that the younger woman was not a prude.

"That's too long. I would like to hear when I come back from my trip that you have found someone. Even if it is just a one-night stand."

"I am afraid I don't do very well with those."

"Have you tried?"

"Never," Elaine told her with a laugh. "I am just not that type."

"Did I tell you of the time when I was in my thirties and went to a party held by a friend of mine?" The weary assistant shifted from one foot to another but did not complain.

"Are you sure you do not have to go home and pack?" Elaine asked, feeling sorry for the man.

"That's what maids are for my dear. Anyway, at the party, I was a little drunk and there was this gorgeous older man, I think he was in his fifties and we started dancing. Well one thing led to another and we found ourselves into one of the coat closets. I cannot recall his name right now, but he tore off my underwear and had his way with me.

The sounds coming from both of us would have been heard out into the ballroom, except the music was rather loud. And I never saw him again. We did not speak a word to each other, before or after," she smiled whimsically. "It is a time that I remember with fondness. Now then my dear, let me give you, my order."

*****

Elaine eased out of her flat shoes and padded barefoot into the kitchen. The shop had been overrun with customers at the last minute and the 9.00 pm closing time had gone over by more than an hour.

Thankfully, tomorrow was Sunday and she would get the chance to wake up late and just laze around the house. At least until the afternoon.

She had promised her best friend Carol to go and take the kids to the zoo, something she was not looking forward to.

She put the kettle on and selected the herbal pouch of tea before sitting on the stool. Her house was comfortable and homey - the renovations had been done to it just a few months ago.

The kitchen was a bright eggshell yellow with light curtains at the large bay windows.

Pots of geraniums, daisies, daffodils, mint and rosemary dotted the sill and sent a pleasant aroma around the large space.

She lived alone and liked it.

Sometimes the loneliness would get to her, but she would always find something to do.

Her job kept her busy and she was always coming up with different ways to improve on her business.

She had been working from a space in her basement before she decided to take the leap and lease one of the shops in the plaza to attract more customers and it was paying off.

The shrill whistle of the kettle jerked her out of her reverie, and she went to turn off the flame and poured water over the pouch.

A study of her pantry and fridge revealed that she was in dire need of supplies.

She had eaten a tuna sandwich for lunch at around three and was feeling hungry now. Maybe some left-over soup from the mason jar Carol had brought over a couple of nights ago.

Pouring the soup into a bowl, she put it into the microwave and pressed the button before going back to her seat around the counter.

She was not in the least bit tired and was used to the late hours.

She had spent nights mixing different flavors and scents to get her soaps to completion and had never allowed frustration to get the better of her.

The decision to go into her own business had come six years ago when her latest relationship had died a slow and painful death after her miscarriage and the news that she would never be able to have a child.

The news had been devastating to her and Simon had told her that he could never be with a woman who would never be able to give him a child.

She had spent almost thirty years working in the corporate world as an administrative assistant and had decided to hang it all up and venture into her own business.

Carol had called her all sorts of crazy, but she had felt that it was time for her to go on her own. Now, she was happy she had taken the plunge.

She had no family except for some distant cousins in Texas and had been an only child.

Her mother had died from a brain tumor ten years ago and her father had followed shortly after.

She had not been in a relationship in years and even though she felt the twinge of loneliness sometimes, she never allowed it to bother her.

Getting up, she removed the bowl from the microwave and brought it over to the counter.

Taking a spoon from the drawer, she stirred the thick turtle soup and sniffed at the aroma.

Her life had been filled with tragedies one after another and she had made up her mind not to allow it to weigh her down.

She had also given up on love and romance as well.

In her twenties as well as her thirties, the expectation had been high, and in her forties, it had dimmed somewhat.

After the fourth miscarriage which had almost broken her clean in two, she had given herself a pep talk and decided to live life to the fullest.

And she was doing exactly that.

Taking out the case from her oversized pocketbook, she opened it and admired the bracelet, wondering when and where she was going to get a chance to wear it again.

*****

"Darling come on in!" Valerie wrapped her arms around her brother's waist and hugged him tightly. "I have not seen you in ages."

Conrad chuckled as he fondly kissed the top of her head. "You saw me last week Sunday."

Taking his light jacket, she handed it to the maid and linked her hand through his arm. "That was a week ago and I have not heard from you. I have had to resort to getting news from the kids."

"We keep telling her that we are not kids anymore. Hi, Uncle Conrad," Debra moved forward to take his other arm. She adored him and admired his sheer grit and determination.

It was not only the fact that he had been there for them when their dad died, as well as lavishing his money on both her and Carl, but he was kind and sweet and had given them every opportunity imaginable.

"You will always be my babies. We have a grand meal prepared for you darling," Valerie told her brother as they went into the large and elegant dining room where the maid was hovering at the table.

"Where is Carl?"

"On a date with that Simone girl," Valerie said with a sniff.

"I thought you liked her," Conrad's eyes twinkled in mirth.

"Mom thinks she is too high faulting," Debra told him with a laugh, thanking him as he pulled out her chair.

"She is an heiress and acts like it."

"Carl is an heir," Conrad pointed out.

"And he is still the same Carl who does not put on airs," Valerie nodded to the maid to begin serving the meal. "But let us talk about you darling. Who is this woman you have been seeing?"

"What woman?" Conrad stretched back in the chair and angled his legs out, crossing them at the ankles.

He felt relaxed and trouble-free being here with his family and could feel his troubles melting away bit by bit.

His sister insisted on him coming over for Sunday dinners and he was glad for the opportunity to spend time with them.

Valerie rolled her slate gray eyes. "Barbara something. Is it serious?"

"You might call it that."

"Should I be inviting her over for dinner?" Valerie demanded as she took up the salad bowl.

"Should you?" Conrad teased.

"I am serious darling. You are keeping this woman hidden for some reason."

"Because I was hoping to avoid this very conversation," he turned to look at his niece. "Help me out here…."

Debra burst out laughing as she reached for the salad bowl. "I have no intention of getting involved. The last time I tried, both of you told me that I should stay out of it. This is me staying out of it."

"You are supposed to be on my side," Conrad complained as he leaned forward and tugged at her thick dark brown hair. "Where is that fellow?"

"What fellow?"

Conrad gave her a wry look. "You know who. When am I going to meet him?"

"I am afraid you are going to scare him away."

"Do I look scary?" He asked her teasingly. "I am a teddy bear."

"To us, but to a potential suitor, you are frightening."

"Suitor?"

"Just a general term," she said hastily.

"Is it?"

"Back to you Uncle Conrad. When are we going to meet this - Barbara?"

"I am not ready," he told both of them and reached for the wine.