Authors: Dee Henderson
“You’re going to make me rich with all these free drawings.”
Sara squeezed the hand on her shoulder. “Right. You’re already rich.”
Adam saw her take a deep breath and reach for her cup of tea before she looked over at him.
“Please, gentlemen, have a seat.” Her tone of voice was formal. There were several stools around the room, as well as conventional chairs. She smiled at Jordan when introduced.
Dave remained standing, leaning against the drafting table by her side.
“Dave, has Mr. Berman been released yet?”
“Adam, please apologize to your employee for me. I’m afraid he got more than he bargained for when he tried to approach me. These gentlemen stop you forcefully and ask questions later.”
“I will, Sara. You have my word.”
“I feel bad for him. He was clearly just the messenger.”
“Are you okay?”
Adam was surprised to find she looked up at Dave before she answered. “Fine.”
She wasn’t. He wondered what was going on in her mind. He wished they were alone, not being watched by his brother-in-law and her protective FBI agent. He wished she were relaxed, not so tense her fingers were white as they held the cup of tea. “I am so sorry, Sara. I would never have knowingly frightened you.”
“Tomorrow it will be forgotten.”
He doubted that.
She smiled, seeming to collect herself. “Since you went to such extreme lengths to learn where I worked, would you be interested in seeing the place?”
Her invitation clearly took her some courage to offer. There had been more than a little damage done to this lady this morning. His error. His responsibility.
“Yes, I would,” he replied, knowing he was starting at ground zero with her again.
Dave took the teacup from her as she got to her feet. “I’ll get you some more tea.”
“Jordan, why don’t you and I talk about Mr. Berman for a moment,” Dave requested.
Sara led Adam to the far wall and the story line sketched there. “This is my next book.”
God, what do I say that will help her? You are the only one who really knows where she’s at inside. What does she need to hear?
Adam looked at the charcoal sketches and the few she had done in color and could see a playfulness to her work that made him smile. “It’s good, Sara.”
“I think so.”
She showed him several of the stories she was working on, and he asked some questions, learning how a children’s book was produced. He also heard her relax as she was pulled into a world that was obviously a passion in her life.
“Is there any way I can apologize?” he asked quietly when her words tapered off.
He had been watching her hands. They were clenched together or pushed into the pockets of her jacket when they were not gesturing as she described something. She was trying to stop them from trembling. She was relaxing, but she had a long way to go before she was steady. He desperately wanted to make today fade from her memory.
“I’m fine, Adam. Believe me, I have been through much tougher mornings.”
“But it never should have happened.” Adam gently touched her hand and felt the soft tremor in it. “I didn’t know. But that is hardly an excuse.” From the corner of his eye he saw the FBI agent moving toward them.
Adam was glad Sara had the protection she obviously needed, but it felt quite stifling to know his every move anywhere near her was being closely watched and reacted to.
His own life in the spotlight had felt nothing like this. There had been a lot of team security and at times a lot of personal security around him. But this was different. This was protective coverage, not general security.
“Dave’s quite protective,” he remarked, admitting the obvious with a reluctant smile as he dropped his hand.
Sara smiled. “He’s also my brother.”
Adam felt like she had dropped a bomb. “You’re serious?”
“It makes security easier. I can trust him.”
Adam felt one enormous weight lift from his shoulders. Dave was not his competition.
“When can we have dinner together?”
“I’m not taking no for an answer, not after nearly getting one of my best employees arrested just to ask the question.” Adam knew what he wanted to secure before he left this office. He wanted, no
time with Sara, and he would have it arranged before they parted company today. If he didn’t, he knew she would have time to put obstacle after obstacle in his path.
Sara bit her bottom lip. Eating out meant security. It would never work. Adam might be able to adjust to the watching eyes, but her conversation would at best be stilted. She would never be able to be herself when men she had known for five, and some of them ten, years watched every move she made and every move around her. The men would be discreet, kind, and she knew them well enough to know there would be no unnecessary intrusions on her evening. But she would know they were there, and that would be enough to turn her into a flustered ball of nerves.
Sara made up her mind. “Come for dinner Friday night. Security is easier on my own turf.”
Adam’s smile told her it had been the right decision.
“I can’t believe you invited him to dinner.”
“Dave, why won’t you let the subject drop? It’s not like I’m going on a date. I just want somewhere private to explain why I’m not interested in seeing him, to ask him to back off.”
Her brother checked the rearview mirror again. “Sure.”
“Why do I get the impression you’re not buying a word I’m saying?”
“Because I’m not.”
“I might feel a certain…attraction,” Sara admitted, “but he’s a public figure. A
public figure with all those commercials he has made.”
“Don’t forget the magazines.”
“Exactly my point. He was voted Most Eligible Chicago Bachelor last year for goodness’ sake. There is no way we could ever have a relationship. You and I both know it. Why do you think I kept turning down his invitations? One photo, one too-inquisitive journalist who tried to go into my past, and my life, my privacy here would disappear. I like him, okay? I’ll admit that. But I don’t like him
“Sara, we can’t let the trail lead to you. Right now that second kidnapper doesn’t have a name or a location. Sara Walsh has no connection to Sara Richman. Our mother’s marriage to Peter Walsh, your adoption papers, have been so deeply buried that no one is going to make that connection without access to sealed documents. Don’t do something foolish that will change that.”
“Dave, I promise. On Mother’s grave. I won’t let there be a lapse in security. Now, is the lecture over?”
Dave reached over and squeezed her hand. “I know this is hard for you. I know that, but we are going to catch this guy one day. His last package to the embassy had the necklace you were wearing when you were snatched. All the profilers say he is becoming more and more obsessed with what happened. Every package and letter he sends gives another clue to work with. We will either catch him or convince his partner to give him up.”
“After twenty-five years, do you honestly expect the kidnapper who was convicted to say a word?”
“No,” Dave admitted. “It would be too easy. I think his partner got to him and convinced him to keep his mouth shut or he would wind up dead.”
o this is your place. I have to say, Sara, I’m impressed.” “Actually this was my grandmother’s home. She left it to Dave and me,” Sara commented as she closed the front door behind him.
The property was not large enough to be classified as an estate, but the five acres of open land allowed the house to be set toward the back of the property. Large flower beds landscaped the grounds around the house.
“Think you’ll keep this one?”
She blushed as she accepted the white-red rose. “Yes, I will. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” As she looked flustered, he got practical. “What’s for dinner?”
She laughed. “Italian. But I warn you, I’m cooking so it could be an interesting meal. Come on back to the kitchen.”
He liked her dress. She liked bold colors. He had noticed that the first evening they met, seen it in the statement she made with her office, and now in the dress she wore tonight. Solid blue on top, to a four-inch red sash at her waist, into a flowing skirt that flared with multiple colors. She was in high heels again—to put her closer to his height?
Adam looked around the house as he followed her, finding it an intriguing mixture of European and early American furniture—walnut and redwood dominating. The home was light and airy, the profusion of plants and flowers making the home a warm living place. The paintings on the wall were bold in color and placed to attract the maximum attention. Family pictures and snapshots were displayed on polished tables. This was the home of a family who had wealth and had had it for many generations.
It was also clear they lived here. In the den there was mail on the end table and a suit jacket tossed on the couch and a sprawling stack of magazines on the coffee table.
The kitchen was spacious and smelled of olive oil and browning garlic. The cutting board was covered with freshly diced tomatoes, peppers, and olives. She was fixing a pasta dish, and the smells were heavenly. She moved to check the tenderness of the simmering pasta.
“Help yourself to something to drink. Sodas are on the bottom shelf. That fruit juice stuff Dave likes is somewhere in back.”
“What are you having?”
She reached over to stir the sauce simmering on a back burner. “Ice water.” She grinned. “At least for now.”
She wasn’t in a hurry in her own house; her movements were fluid, graceful, and relaxed. Charming.
She didn’t mind that the meal wasn’t ready when he arrived. She seemed intent on having a relaxing evening with him, and Adam couldn’t find the words to express his gratitude. He had been afraid the evening would be stiff and formal and touched with the unfortunate history of their first two meetings. She seemed determined not to let that happen.
He slipped off his suit jacket and draped it over one of the kitchen chairs. “Can I do the salad?”
“Sure. Oh, and find us some music—there is a radio tucked by the bread maker.”
The radio was already tuned to a jazz station.
“That’s Dave’s preference. See if you can find some country.”
Adam tuned in to a station he liked.
There were breadsticks ready to go in the oven and fresh-grated Parmesan cheese for the pasta already prepared.
Adam cleared a section of countertop and took an interested look over the salad options she had set out on the counter. He liked to cook when it was going to be for more than just one. When it was just him, he didn’t bother.
Sara leaned past him to retrieve some fresh oregano.
“Can I ask you a question?”
She popped an olive in her mouth. “Sure.”
“Why the invitation to come here instead of somewhere public?”
“You would have seen a different me in a restaurant. As you seemed to be determined for us to spend a couple hours together, I thought it was best that you not see the wrapper but the real me.”
“Yes. But also the fact I would be sitting there exposed. That knowledge sets me on edge. I don’t have the security for the fun of it.”
Adam considered what she had said. “Will you tell me someday why you need the security?”
Sara momentarily stopped moving. “I don’t know. There are only about a dozen people in the world who know all the details, another couple dozen who know bits and pieces.”
“That’s not many people.”
“It’s been going on for twenty-five years, Adam,” she said simply. “Security is part of who I am and how I live. It’s either private or professional security, depending on my father’s job at any point in time, but it’s always there. You’re going to have a tough transition to learn what that means. To you, the public spotlight is your career; for me, staying out of the public spotlight is an absolute necessity for staying alive.”
Adam absorbed that statement with some shock. Twenty-five years was practically her entire lifetime.
“Sara, can you get this tie straight? I swear you bought this particular one deliberately.” Dave interrupted them, coming into the kitchen, dressed for a night out.
Sara smiled as she wiped her hands. “You look quite elegant in black tie.”
“Stuff it, squirt, and just fix the blasted thing. Next time you send ballet tickets to my girlfriend, I’m going to throttle you myself.” Dave held still as she fixed his tie. “Hello, Adam.”
Adam grinned. “Hello, Dave.”
Sara patted Dave’s chest. “There. You’re all set.”
“Thank you. I think. What’s the password for tonight?”
“Got it. Security is hot in zones four, seven, and ten in the house and all the grounds. Travis is principal for the night.” Dave kissed her cheek. “Be good. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Sara laughed and pushed him toward the doorway. “Out. Or you’re going to be late picking up Linda.”
He glanced at the clock and grabbed his keys. “You’re right. And she absolutely hates that. Night, you two.”
“Would you like to eat in here or the more formal dining room?” Sara asked as her brother left.
“The difference being?”
“The formal dining room is the white tablecloth, candlelight, china, et cetera.”
Adam leaned against the kitchen counter and grinned. “And here?”
She shrugged, grinning back. “It’s comfortable.”
“With you, I think I prefer comfortable.”
She gestured toward the cabinet to his right. “Plates are there.”
The phone rang. She reached around and snagged a cordless phone from the counter. “This is Sara.”
Her back stiffened and she straightened, her smile disappearing. “Hello, Father.”
Adam was startled by the tone in her voice. It had turned cool and formal. Her father? It was obvious as the minutes passed that what she was listening to was not pleasant. She spoke few words, just listened. Her accent caught his attention. He had heard it before and not made the connection. The phone call ended and her jaw was tense. It was a moment before she set down the phone.
Adam hesitated before he said anything. “You’re British?”
“I hold dual British-American citizenship,” she replied, lost in thought.
She shook her head slightly and gestured toward the kitchen table. She put the breadsticks into the oven and set the timer. “Let’s eat. The bread will be done when we’re ready for the pasta.”
Adam didn’t push the subject.
The salad was eaten quietly.
They put the pasta together over the stove, passing plates back and forth. Adam bumped her shoulder as they moved toward the table. “Sorry.”
She looked up, and the distant look in her eyes dropped away. Okay, maybe his move had not been that subtle.
“Adam, you’re as bad as Dave.” She slid onto her seat. “Sorry. My father raised some subjects I would have rather dealt with tomorrow.”
She smiled. “So am I. It interrupted what was becoming a nice evening.”
She met his eyes.
Adam smiled. “Enjoy your meal. It’s still going to be an enjoyable evening.”
Her look was one of amusement. “Yes, I think it will be.”
“The pasta’s good.” He was surprised to see a slight blush form as she accepted the compliment. So she didn’t cook for many men besides her brother. He would be lying to say that fact didn’t please him.
“Tell me how you got into writing children’s books,” he asked, moving the conversation to a subject he knew she was comfortable with.
Sara choked on her water.
Adam came around the table to help her as she struggled to get her breath back. “Okay?”
She nodded, tears still wet in her eyes. “Sorry.”
“Sit back easy and take a few deep breaths.”
She finally did so and Adam felt some of his panic fade.
“Your question surprised me. I apologize.”
She hides behind formality when she gets uncomfortable.
The realization made him want to smile. If they had been beyond a first date he would have reached over and stroked her chestnut hair back from her face, told her to relax. Instead, he took his seat and watched her with a slightly raised eyebrow, waiting for her to explain.
“When my parents divorced, my mother married Frank Victor, and we went to live in Texas. Frank was the one who taught me to draw.” She hesitated. “I had been telling stories all my life, putting the two talents together seemed a natural fit. My first book as Sara Walsh was published when I was twenty.”
“That wasn’t Frank on the phone.”
“No. Frank died when I was fourteen. That was my father, William Richman.”
Her face showed so much tension when she thought about her father. He could never imagine feeling that way about his dad. “Was the divorce bitter?”
“On the contrary. My parents were so polite about the thing, it was barely even mentioned in the papers. One day we were in London and the next we were in Texas.”
Adam tried to put together the pieces she had told him. Sara’s family had been living in London when her parents divorced. She and her mother had returned to the United States. A couple whose divorce would be worth a journalist’s time and a newspaper’s space…
“Your father still lives in London?”
“He’s still there.”
Dave. That was the key. Adam remembered now. In the elevator. When Sara had whispered that what she had wanted most for her eighth birthday was not the horse Golden Glory but her brother back… “Dave didn’t come back to the States with you and your mom, did he?” Adam asked quietly. “He stayed with your father.”
“He stayed with my father.”
The pain had to be over twenty years old, and yet it still looked so raw in her eyes.
“I made a cheesecake for dessert. Let’s take it into the living room.”
Adam rose politely when she did, accepting the coffee and dessert she offered him.
William Richman was Sara’s father. For some reason the name was familiar, but he couldn’t place it.
The living room was a beautiful room, an extension of the rest of the house in its formal yet livable decor, the white carpet contrasting with gleaming polished wood. The bookcases were filled with mysteries and suspense novels; two books with bookmarks were stacked on the end table. Sara sank down on one end of the sofa, and Adam chose a comfortable chair across from her.
Richman. Dave’s last name. Her mother had then married Frank Victor. So how had Sara’s last name become Walsh? Now that was an interesting puzzle. Had it ever been formally changed, or for security reasons had everything simply been changed overnight to Walsh? Adam froze.
“Sara, you’ve never been married have you?” He didn’t know a polite way to ask the question.
He was grateful she looked puzzled and not offended. “No.”
“Your last name is Walsh. I was trying to figure out how that transpired.”
He was getting used to her hesitations. It was as if she were mentally censoring what she said. “After Frank died, Mom married for a third time. I was adopted by Peter Walsh when I was sixteen.”
“You don’t sound happy about that.”
“It pleased my mother,” Sara replied, leaving it at that.
His life had been one of consistency and steadiness; hers sounded like a life being shuffled from pillar to post. Different countries. Displaced siblings. Frank’s death—she spoke of him with great fondness. Yet a third home before she was eighteen. He couldn’t even imagine the toll that had taken on her as a child.
He gestured to the pictures above the fireplace mantle. “May I?”
“Feel free.” Sara continued to sip her coffee as she sat curled up on the couch, having slipped off her shoes.
Adam got up and studied the pictures. They were informal shots, most of them pictures of her and Dave taken in the last few years. Sara was laughing at her brother in most of them. There was one of them on skis, snow flying up toward the camera as they both turned to an abrupt halt at the same instant. A second picture showed them apparently taking part in a game of touch football, for Sara had the football poised ready to throw as her brother rushed her—the picture had been taken an instant before they would have made contact. One that held his attention for some time was of a dusty, tired, sun-browned Sara wearing chaps, work gloves, boots, and riding a beautiful mare. Her brother rode a quarter horse. It didn’t look like a pleasure shot; the two of them gave the impression of coming back from a hard day’s work.
Adam moved on. This picture had to be Sara and her mom. “What was your mom’s name?” Adam asked softly, already sensing what Sara had not told him directly, that her mother had passed away sometime in the past.
“She was a beautiful woman.”
“Yes. She died in a car accident.”
The picture third to the right stopped him in his tracks. “Your father is the U.S. ambassador to Britain.” Adam was more than stunned; he was speechless.
Protective security. Someone was actively threatening her.
Adam swung around and looked at Sara. She looked back at him calmly. “My life is not as neat as yours.” She half smiled. “You only have half the nation that knows your face and name and thinks you are a superstar. I’ve got one man out there somewhere who would like nothing more than to see me dead.”