Authors: Dee Henderson
She glanced at her watch. There was nothing special about it except for an unusually wide band. The doctors had never been able to totally remove the scars. It was nine-fifteen. She could have that cup of coffee and still be home before Dave.
The idea of something hot to help settle the chills was a welcome idea. But to do it in Adam’s company…there would be questions. Questions she had to avoid.
It was worth the price.
“Okay, Adam.” She retrieved the cellular phone she always carried from her purse. Dave’s private number was speed dial number one. His voice mail picked up on the first ring. “Dave, it’s nine-fifteen. I’m stopping for coffee at the Marque Hotel until the storm passes. I’m fine. Expect me around ten-thirty.”
Dave now knew she was with someone. She’d ensure someone on staff at the hotel knew she was with Adam Black. It was simple security.
Had Adam not been at her side, she would have said who she was with and where they had met, but he was there holding both of their briefcases in one of his hands.
He was frowning.
Okay, so now he thought she was living with someone. Well, he could stuff his opinion of her morals. She hadn’t been judging him or his lifestyle. He had played professional football for twelve years for goodness’ sake. If she could withhold an opinion until she had the facts, then so could he.
She could call Travis and ask him for an escort. That would really give Adam something to wonder about.
She didn’t act on the idea. She did not need those questions.
“If you’ll point out your car, I’ll drop off your briefcase.” Adam’s voice was that of a courteous stranger. If Sara didn’t want that cup of coffee so desperately, she would reverse her answer to his invitation.
“Put them both in your trunk for now, and I’ll get mine when we come back from the hotel.”
Adam nodded and stopped at a blue sedan. The briefcases went into the trunk and he took out an umbrella. Sara slipped her coat on properly.
The rain pounded down. Few pedestrians braved the weather. Cars passing by flung water onto the sidewalks.
The hotel was directly across the street. Sara didn’t mind walking near Adam as they shared the umbrella. Any personal interest had disappeared into the polite actions of a gentleman.
Sara knew the hotel well. She knew the manager by name, the security chief and the entire security staff, the doorman, and most of the restaurant staff. Dave wanted her to have a safe public place for the occasional business lunch and dinner she needed to have—this was a compromise. She knew the hotel well enough to know when something or someone was out of place, and she knew the escape routes if she felt there was something wrong.
As they reached the restaurant, it was evident that Adam was well known here too.
“We’re here just for coffee, Charles,” Adam told the maître d’ helping Sara slip off her coat.
“Of course.” The man looked with interest between them. “Your usual table, Sara?”
She followed him through the elegant restaurant to a back table that gave a view of the room and took the seat by the wall. “Is Gail working tonight?”
“She is. Desserts tonight.”
“Add a piece of apple pie to go along with my espresso?”
The maître d’ smiled. “Done. Mr. Black?”
Adam had to pull his attention back to the man beside him. “Just black coffee, Charles.”
Sara had caught him off guard. She sat across from him, one hand resting lightly on the crystal water glass, the other resting in her lap, calmly surveying the room and the other guests. He would not have expected this to be her normal table. Someone who was on a first-name basis with the maître d’ and the pastry chef could pick anywhere in the restaurant, yet she chose essentially to hide in a corner.
She was calm. And it wasn’t a false calm. In less than fifteen minutes she had gone from a woman who was struggling to keep her sanity to someone who was poised and self-assured. That suggested she had lived through enough episodes like the one he had seen tonight to learn how to deal with them quickly and move on.
And being seen with someone who was, to a certain degree, famous did not fluster her. He knew his name had been whispered behind them as they crossed the restaurant. She didn’t seem to care. She was certainly not in awe.
Her dress and understated jewelry were elegant on her, higher quality than what most women might be able to afford, but not extravagant. Her shoulder-length chestnut hair was styled to outline and highlight her oval face.
Everything about her said she was older than she appeared. He had started the evening guessing at a college degree and about five years’ work experience. Now…he had no idea. It also wasn’t a polite question to ask a lady.
Her voice stopped his reflections.
“If you hadn’t been in that elevator with me, I would have gone crazy.”
“It’s the truth. I just wanted to know if I could say thanks in a tangible way.”
Adam had rarely felt so uncomfortable in his life. He could understand her desire to say thank-you with more than just words, but it wasn’t necessary. Yet to say so could hurt her feelings. He tried to come up with a suggestion that felt appropriate but couldn’t think of a single thing. “Your thank-you is quite sufficient, Sara. Seriously.”
“Come on, isn’t there one thing in life you don’t have that you would like?”
Adam blinked. Where had that thought come from?
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Country. Contemporary gospel. Some blues,” he replied, grateful for the easy question.
“What are your favorite hobbies?”
Her smile tugged the answer from him. “I go to a lot of sports games. Football, obviously. Baseball. Basketball. I like to get out and run just for the pleasure of it.”
Their coffee arrived along with a generous piece of the apple pie. Sara let out a grateful sigh as she took her first careful sip from her china cup. “You have no idea how much I needed this.”
“I think I can guess.” Adam was pleased by the simple pleasure he saw on her face. It had been a grueling day and the coffee was very good.
“What’s your favorite way to relax?”
Adam had hoped the interruption had thrown her off the subject. “Sara, this isn’t necessary.”
“Of course it is. Come on, give. What are your favorite ways to relax?” Her eyes were laughing at him as she leaned forward against the table, holding her cup of coffee.
Adam thought carefully about how much he wanted to tell her. She was a self-admitted writer whom he had known less than three hours. “I take my dog down to the beach and find some secluded place where I can sit and watch the clouds drift by. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, although late at night with a full moon is probably my favorite. I like to stretch out on my couch and read a good book cover to cover. I like to spend time with my family.”
In the past, I used to go hang out with my dad.
“Do you have a big family?”
“A younger sister who has three kids. You?”
“An older brother.”
“Does he live close by?”
She didn’t reply. Was family not a comfortable subject? He was surprised at that, and after a glance at her tense face, he let the silence linger. It could often do what a question could not.
What was she supposed to say? Admit she lived with her brother? It was a topic she didn’t want to touch. “He lives nearby,” she finally answered and left it at that.
She wished her life were different. She was so tired of the dance, of not being real, of hiding who she really was. She hadn’t even been able to correct his impression that she was a reporter, to tell him she primarily wrote children’s books. Would there ever be a time when she could simply tell the truth without the need for constantly policing her words? Could she even handle it if that day arrived?
She suddenly felt exhausted. It was beginning to feel as if she had been hit with a bulldozer tonight.
She pushed back her plate, unable to eat any more of the pie. “I think it’s time I went home.” She met his gaze and was glad she had not let the topic of conversation shift toward what had happened during those thirty-eight minutes in the elevator. His eyes showed too much interest. Give him a little and he would work to figure out the rest, making all the wrong assumptions along the way.
He held her coat for her, then paid the bill.
“Charles, please tell Gail the pie was delicious,” Sara said as they passed the maître d’ on the way out.
“I’ll be glad to, Sara. Thank you both for stopping by.”
The rain had stopped while they drank their coffee. A chilly wind met them as they stepped outside. Adam kept his hand on Sara’s forearm as they walked, not knowing if she needed the assistance, not willing to risk letting her stumble.
At the parking garage, he opened his trunk and retrieved her briefcase. It was odd that there were no initials on it given the hand-tooled scrolling on the leather case. He handed it to her. “Thanks for joining me for coffee.”
“I needed it and you knew it. I still owe you a thank-you,” she replied as he watched her intently.
Adam stilled. She had the most beautiful eyes. Indigo blue. Sparkling, alive.
When Sara rested her hand on his arm and reached up, Adam instinctively bent down.
She softly kissed his cheek, her breath lightly touching his skin. “I’ll be seeing you.” With that, she turned away and walked across the expanse of the underground garage, walking confidently and not looking back.
He heard the electronic alarm on a gray sedan disengage as she walked toward it. Her only hesitation was a brief one when she neared the car, and he thought for a moment she might turn but she didn’t. She opened the driver’s door and tossed the briefcase inside, removed her coat, and slid behind the wheel.
She raised a hand as her car pulled out of the south exit. Adam noted the license plate since the car was such a common make and model: BI 691.
He leaned against the side of his own car and thought about that kiss. It had been as gentle as a dove’s feather and she hadn’t teased him. With that dress and that smile, she could have pushed the attraction but she didn’t.
What do You think, God? And who’s this Dave who is expecting her home at ten-thirty?
Adam was not going to jump to conclusions. She didn’t wear a wedding ring. Something in her past had made her terrified of the dark. There could be simple explanations. He was going to hope for the best and find out some answers.
He only had one major problem.
He didn’t know her last name.
Sara struggled to remember how to make tea. Dave had preprogrammed the coffeemaker to turn on early in the morning, and she just wanted it to turn on now and give her hot water. Giving up, she filled her mug from the tap and placed it in the microwave. Her eyes shifted to the window over the sink and the darkness outside. It didn’t matter that security was solid here at the house; she was on the first floor and she wanted to be somewhere harder to reach. The timer sounded and she retrieved her mug, dropped in the tea bag, and let it steep enough to make the water turn a cloudy brown. She added more sugar than normal, spilled some, and swiped the counter with a paper towel.
Kissing Adam had been a mistake.
Sara laughed at herself. Riding the elevator had been a mistake. She wouldn’t be forgetting tonight for a very long time.
The kiss had been an impulse. She surprised him but she surprised herself even more. Adam’s arm under her hand had been firm muscles. She was thirty-one, and she had a crush on a guy she had just met. It was embarrassing to find herself acting like someone who was sixteen.
She didn’t date. Her circumstances, who she was…it all made a normal relationship nearly impossible. When security required her to disappear, the friendships could not continue. Contacts had to be broken.
She would be glad when she was able to forget tonight. She turned off lights in the kitchen. At the security pad, she activated zones for the ground floor and headed upstairs. Dave would be home soon. She kept reminding herself of that as she grasped the handrail and climbed the stairs. This house was big without him present—way too big.
Dave tightened his seat belt as the plane finally came out of the holding pattern and began its descent into O’Hare Airport. It had been a long flight, most of it spent waiting on the ground out East for the weather to finally clear. The plane settled out of its descent and touched down, the tires whining under the speed on the wet runway. Dave grimaced. The pilot had set down a little too fast. Dave preferred to be at the controls when he flew.
He looked out over the runway sweeping by and could see across the tarmac to the buildings that housed the private jets. He should have taken the private jet; he would’ve made better time.
No. As much as he would have enjoyed making the flight, he didn’t like to take the plane and leave Sara without a means of fast exit. When they had to yank her from a location, the ability to be in the air within twenty minutes made all the difference in the world.
When the plane eventually came to a stop, Dave stood along with the other passengers in first class. He retrieved his briefcase from the overhead compartment. Sara was probably waiting up to hear about his trip. It was going to be at least another hour before he was home.