Jules’ sigh reached Mercy even over the hum of the Web site servers and the sweet sounds of Chet Baker and his trumpet.
Her BFF had been unhappy—and restless—for weeks. That was odd enough in itself, but even more odd was the fact that he hadn’t told her what was bothering him even though she’d asked him dozens of times.
Jules just shrugged and turned away, refusing to meet her eyes, shoulders hunched up around his ears, when she asked. In the almost quarter century they’d been friends, she couldn’t remember a single secret. Until this one.
Mercy gave a small sigh. It obviously wasn’t something physically wrong—Jules still spent his hour at the gym every morning, still ate well, still, except for his hangdog expression and his slumped shoulders, looked fine.
Mercy shut off the music right in the middle of Someone to Watch Over Me. While waiting for Jules to turn around and acknowledge the silence, she looked over the cavernous space they’d leased just over a year ago.
Part Time Lovers inhabited what had, once upon a time, been the largest dining and dancing hall on the West Coast. Its other claim to fame was that, unlike most other dance floors, this one—instead of being on the main floor or in the basement—lived on the fourteenth floor of the grande dame of Vancouver hotels—the Hotel Vancouver.
Windows half covered with musty red velvet drapes spanned the room, looking out over Burrard Inlet to the mountains in the north, the city and beyond to Mount Baker to the east, and the ocean to the south and west.
Jules and Mercy never closed the curtains, never shut out the views. Jules said he felt as if he worked in a sky palace, and he wanted to see the world around him. For a guy who spent most of his time in his own head, who loved programming the way some men loved their cars, his obsession with the open windows was odd.
But then, a lot about both Jules and Mercy was odd.
She stared at the space surrounding her. The room managed to maintain some of its faded glory despite the rows of servers, the discount tables and chairs, and the cheap and noisy fans smack dab in the middle of the big dance floor.
The rest of the room sat empty, the ceiling unreachable by even the tallest of stepladders. She knew that because when they’d first moved in, she’d cringed at the idea of the spider webs she’d sensed above her. They’d ending up buying four stepladders—trying them out like Goldilocks and the beds in the bears’ cottage—but unlike Goldilocks, they’d never found a ladder tall enough to reach the ceilings.
She loved the space despite her fear of spiders. Loved the dirty cream walls with the embossed rosettes. The bits of gilt remaining on the mirrors across the south wall, and the intricate design of the ceiling so unreachable above their heads. Mercy could almost remember what it had looked like in its heyday, when her parents had brought her to an office Christmas party in this hotel.
She did remember riding up in the red and gold and glass elevator to the top floor, did remember the sound that met them as the doors opened onto what she had thought at the time to be a palace. She had expected to meet Prince Charming and Cinderella and, occasionally, still waited in anticipation for them.
Late at night or very early in the morning, when Jules had gone home or wasn’t in yet, Mercy was almost certain she could still see the dancers twirling across the floor, the mile-long bar in front of the windows, the bartender making martinis and rye and ginger.
Their rent was more than reasonable. Dance floors in the sky had gone out of fashion in the 1950s, and although the hotel had tried to keep it going, by the late 1970s the room had closed. The hotel manager was happy to have someone pay even a pittance for the space, but even happier to have someone to waylay the few lost or nosy guests who made their way up to the fourteenth floor.
Mercy—because Jules was in avoidance-of-everything mode—had a very particular smile she used on these people. A sultry, old-fashioned kind of smile she’d learned from watching Lana Turner and Eva Marie Saint. The intruders were usually lonely, elderly men, bored and inquisitive, who had, most likely, spent time up here when it was the most popular bar in town.