Authors: Dee Henderson
Adam could tell that Dave’s relief at Sara’s answer was genuine. It was plain the man didn’t trust someone else to protect her—and he immediately understood the feeling.
“I see she’s already got you watching her favorite tapes.” Dave met Adam’s gaze with a challenge in his eyes.
“Oh, I can’t say I’ve minded.” Adam watched Dave’s eyes narrow. Good. Her brother was more than playing games about this protection business. Sara did not need someone who was more words than actions.
Sara shifted in his arms to look up at him, a puzzled look on her face. She didn’t understand the byplay of two guys defining turf boundaries. That was okay; she didn’t need to understand. She still thought they wouldn’t be seeing each other after tonight.
There would be time to correct that impression another day.
“It’s time for me to leave and time for you to go to bed properly,” he told her, enjoying the way she blushed. If Dave wasn’t sitting there, he bet she would’ve been willing to come back with a one-liner of her own and put him in his place, but for now she simply pushed herself off him, covering a yawn she couldn’t prevent. “Sorry, Adam. I don’t know why I’m so tired.”
Dave chuckled. “I do. You were working until 4 A.M., remember?”
“Would you believe I actually forgot that book for a few hours?” She rubbed her eyes. “I don’t think that has ever happened at this late stage of editing.”
“When is it due to the editor?” Dave asked.
“I told Helen she would have it in her hands by Tuesday afternoon. I’ve already got plane tickets for Judy to hand deliver it.”
“Sara, are you crazy? That’s only another four days.”
“I want this book finished and out of my hands. I know what I committed to.”
“Do you normally hand deliver your children’s books?” Adam asked.
“Sometimes.” Sara and Dave exchanged a look.
Something was not being said. Adam didn’t push. “Come on; walk me to the front door.”
Sara escorted him to the front door and deactivated the ground’s security. “I’m glad you came for dinner.”
He brushed back her hair. “I enjoyed it a great deal. And if you ever change your mind, all you have to do is call. My invitation for coffee or dinner is still open.”
She tentatively fingered the lapel of his jacket. “I’m sorry, Adam. It’s not possible.”
His fingers entwined with hers. “Someday it will be. Think about it. We can work something out.” He bent and kissed her. It was something he rarely did on a first date, but the possibility of its being the last one was lingering too close in the back of his mind. “Good night.”
The beach was deserted. Adam walked along the shore, deep in thought. His dog loped ahead of him, exploring.
The night was comfortable. The moon was full, casting a bright trail across the lake water. Adam typically enjoyed the view. Tonight it barely registered. He had a problem to solve.
His normal approach was not going to work in this situation. Sara wasn’t going to accept an invitation for a date; she wasn’t likely to be more forthcoming with details of her past. She didn’t know him well enough to trust him.
Adam picked up a shell on the beach and rubbed it with his fingers. Trust was going to be hard to earn. The complexity of Sara’s past stood like an insurmountable mountain. Like the fine lines in the shell he held, her past was layered deep.
Her past had made a pearl. Rather than break her, the pressure had made something beautiful.
He could walk away. It was what she wanted. He certainly understood her reasoning. The complications her security needs introduced could destabilize any hope of having a relationship.
He had never been one to walk away from a challenge. He
her. She had a class about her that was much more than just her appearance; it went deep into her character. He liked how she expressed herself, how she related to her brother.
There was complexity to her. He was tired of shallow people. Over the last decade he had seen all he wanted to of fame, the gloss, the surface. He didn’t want that for his future.
Sara held the promise of something real. Her life forced her to live with carefully chosen priorities. She couldn’t afford to live at the surface in her relationships. As he had listened to her talk about her brother and her friend Ellen, he had heard the depth she had established in those relationships. He wanted to be part of that circle. He wanted a chance to really know her.
What did he have to offer her? Others were attracted to his fame, his accomplishments. To Sara, they were real obstacles. His wealth, which might help with the security, was not a plus either. Her family came from old wealth. She didn’t lack for what money could buy.
He knew she would gladly trade that wealth for what she didn’t have: a relationship with her father, freedom.
Besides her brother, she didn’t have any close family. She didn’t have freedom of movement. She didn’t have the luxury of taking a dog for a walk on the beach late at night.
He had a great family. The fact he had lived in the public eye for so long had also taught him some invaluable lessons about how to ensure privacy when he needed it.
Sara didn’t realize the extent to which her life would be better with him in it. So how did he convince her to take the chance?
Adam’s eyes narrowed. Yes, Dave would be the key. Nothing happened around Sara without his security coverage.
Could he turn that to his advantage?
Lord, I want to get to know her. What is the best way to approach this? I’m only going to get one chance.
Dave had finally gone upstairs to bed shortly before midnight. Sara had assured him she was going to be up in a few minutes and that she would set the security codes.
She pulled the throw cover down across her feet again and curled up on the couch, the room as dark as she could tolerate.
She wiped at tears slipping down her cheeks.
This was the third time in her life a good man had crossed her path who could be both a good friend and possibly more. And for one reason or another, she had to stop it before the relationship could form.
Lord, why didn’t You let me die in that root cellar, too, if I’m to remain a captive to that event for the rest of my life?
The grief tasted bitter.
She didn’t know if she even would want a relationship with a public figure like Adam, but she would at least like to make the choice.
If it were just a risk to herself, she might consider it. But the risk to those around her? to Dave? to Adam?
She knew what the FBI experts said. The second kidnapper was obsessed with the crime, with her. If he found her, if he realized there was someone important in her life, that person would become an immediate target of his jealous insanity. To have a relationship with Adam would put a bull’ seye on his back.
She didn’t try to stop the tears. There were times it was good to cry. She wished she had that stupid teddy bear Dave had given her when she was ten. It was packed in the suitcase on the plane, waiting for the next time she got yanked at a moment’s notice out of life as she knew it. It would be good to have that bear to cuddle. She wiped at her tears with her sleeve.
She shouldn’t be whining. It had been a great night. It was what she asked God for and He delivered it beyond her expectations. Dinner came together well. She had been nervous about that. Adam handled most of the shocks she threw at him with tact. The end of the evening, curled up beside him on the couch, was a memory she wouldn’t forget.
She had a rose to press in her scrapbook.
The tears started again and she furiously rubbed them away.
She couldn’t change what she lived with.
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer. “
The words from Psalm 144 resonated with a strong reassurance. She tried to get her perspective back to match God’s. His was bigger than hers. There had to be a safe way through this turmoil. There was always a path when she looked hard enough.
Lord, I can cling to Your Word as I have done all my life, but must this burden be forever? Will it ever lift?
Adam was not used to hearing no. It was doubtful he would go away peacefully. Sara winced. She wanted to spend more time with him. He was going to be persistent, and she had to find the courage to do what was right. Say no. Keep saying no. The dangers were real. He was too public a figure to be near. So what did she do? Go to the ranch for a few months and work from there?
Thinking about security was part of how she had to make decisions.
She wished she understood what God had planned. It would be so nice to have a normal life instead of this peculiar one that defied description.
She wished God didn’t demand so much from her.
ow long, Sara?” She was unpacking the fourth box of books Dave had carried in for her, restocking the shelter’s supply of books so the kids who came could take a favorite book with them when they left. Dave’s question caused her to pause. “Thirty minutes? I’ll read a couple stories.”
He nodded. “No longer.”
Sara knew Dave hated the fact she had chosen this ministry in which to work, but he understood why, so he let her come. She had spent a lifetime trying to understand why God allowed violence; here she could both offer what she had learned and learn from others who had been forced to take the same journey.
About a dozen young children were crowded around, hoping Sara would read them one of her new stories. She smiled at them and suggested they all go to the playroom.
She picked up two of the younger ones whom she had known for several months, and they giggled as she stole kisses on their cheeks. They were happy kids even though most of them were at the shelter because their homes had been torn apart by violence.
She gathered the children around her in a circle and made sure each one of them got to look at the pictures as she turned the pages of the book she had titled
. By the inflections in her voice she could make any character, any story, come alive. She had the children giggling and laughing and fully engaged with the book within minutes.
She loved to watch a child’s face as he or she heard a story for the first time. It was a delight to see. She learned something new about her craft with each group of children. She learned she could write stories that were quite complex and still have the full attention of a three-year-old.
She learned that while adults would look at the artwork and see a good picture, an overall image, a child would look at the artwork and see the details first, then the full picture.
She had changed her style of artwork when she realized that. Now her drawings were quite detailed down to the legs on a butterfly, the raindrop on a leaf, the caterpillar on a stem. An adult would turn the page when the words ran out; a child would look at the picture a long time to see all those details.
Dave stood by the doorway, watching as various mothers came quietly into the room also to listen to the stories. It was a women-only shelter, and he attracted a few curious looks that he answered with a smile.
Sara saw Dave tap his watch. She nodded and took the time to pass out copies of her books so every child had one to look at.
Outside the building, hands on her lower back, Sara stretched, looking up at the light fluffy clouds drifting by. “Since it’s such a beautiful Saturday, would you like to go horseback riding for a couple hours?”
“If you don’t mind us inviting along some company.”
Sara looked over at her brother, alerted by his tone.
“Who did you have in mind?”
“Linda and Adam.”
“No way, Dave. You’re not setting me up on a date. I know you and Adam have become buddies in the last couple weeks—playing racquetball at the health club, jogging together, doing all that macho stuff to see who is in better shape—but no way am I letting you set me up on a date. Besides, it’s a security risk.”
She’d been hurt to learn Adam had taken her at her word and made no further attempt to contact her, which was a contradiction in logic that made her mad at herself. It had been hard to admit in her daily journal how off balanced the situation made her feel. She wasn’t used to dealing with a crush, and that was exactly what she had—on a good-looking guy that half the ladies in the country would recognize on sight.
She was coping by burying herself in work. In the days since she had last seen Adam, she had finished two more children’s books. Dave was in the habit now of coming to her office suite around 7 P.M. and ordering her to put down her colored pencils and come home.
“Sara, we’re talking about a few hours horseback riding in the middle of nowhere. Yes, it’s a minimal security risk, but you know the Graysons or their staff would never talk about who we invite to join us.”
“Then why are you suddenly willing to take the risk?”
“Because it’s my job to consider what’s best for you. And getting you out of that tomb of an office is more than a need right now, it’s a necessity.”
“I don’t need you to arrange my social life.”
“You canceled out on Ellen twice. So say, ‘Yes, Dave, let’s go riding.’ I’ve got the car keys, so you might as well face the inevitable.”
Sara knew she had to say yes. Dave deserved a day with Linda. Horseback riding with Adam…it would be embarrassing to ask him. “Do you know if he can even ride?”
“Then you call him. And make it very clear I had no part in the invitation.”
Her brother used his cellular phone and made the call. It surprised Sara that they spoke less than a minute.
“Adam said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I told him we would pick him up.”
Linda was free as well and eager to go.
Sara moved from the front seat to the back when they picked up Linda, and her nerves began to flutter. Adam. From the address Dave had quoted, they would be picking him up in less than five minutes.
Linda, given twenty-minutes’ warning, had managed to make herself into a man’s delight with colored jeans, a black belt, a top that accentuated her good looks, and her hair pulled back by a gorgeous gold-and-satin clip. Having nothing against Linda personally, for she rather liked Dave’s latest girlfriend, Sara nevertheless slouched in her seat for the first time in ages.
She had planned for a workday, not to see Adam. She was wearing Dave’s old flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up and faded jeans that should have been given a decent burial months ago. It was embarrassing. Anything else in her wardrobe would have been better. She didn’t mind the lack of makeup, but it was a windy day and even a simple barrette would have helped things.
Adam was waiting at the steps of his condominium complex, talking to the security guard.
Sara slid farther over in the seat.
“Thanks for the invite, Dave. It’s been way too long since I’ve had a chance to ride.”
“My pleasure, Adam.” Dave pulled back into traffic. “Let me introduce Linda Olsen. I’m sure I’ve mentioned her on more than one occasion.”
“More than one. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“I had no idea Dave knew you, Mr. Black.”
Adam wanted to groan at the look he saw in Linda’s eyes. A fan. It couldn’t get worse. Not on the one day he and Dave had been trying to get arranged forever.
“Please, call me Adam. I’m surprised you aren’t getting tired of bumping into all of us. Dave knows lots of sports players from the club downtown. Did he mention he was working in a batting cage with Greg Nelson yesterday?”
Linda turned to look at Dave.
Adam understood what had just happened only too well, and he felt intensely sorry for Dave. He was falling in love with Linda, while she was more than willing to move on to the more famous and wealthy at the drop of a hat. No wonder Dave had kept her away from the sports club and the restaurant there.
Sara’s mouth was stiff. Adam suspected she had just come to the same conclusion he had. He had the feeling she would like nothing better than to shove Linda out of her brother’s life. The protective instincts between Sara and Dave went both ways; that was good to know.
Adam touched the hand that was curled into a fist beside him. “Hello, Sara. It’s good to see you again.”
Her head turned and her glare toward the front seat was changed to a polite smile. “It’s mutual, Adam.”
Formal, so she was nervous, but it was not the cold front that he had been expecting. “How have you been the last couple weeks?”
He knew how busy she had been. Dave was quite forthcoming about the work schedule Sara was keeping, and his words had not been kind.
“Not too busy, I hope.”
The way she answered pleased him, for it meant she wasn’t willing to lie, even to herself.
“Tell me about this farm where we’re going.”
“The Graysons have been breeding and boarding horses for years. They bought a few horses from Frank over the years and have always been good friends of our family. They let us board a few horses with them.
“There are several trails on their property that go for miles. There’s a river that cuts across one corner of their land. It has a natural dam made by beavers some years ago. After a good rain it can be a beautiful sight. Dave and I come out here when we need to get away and relax for a few hours. Even if it’s raining, I like to simply mess around in the stables.”
“Sounds like a nice place to spend some time.”
“It is,” Sara agreed.
Adam watched Sara check that the car door was locked and then turn to rest her back against it, making it easier to face him. She was beautiful to look at simply because she hadn’t known she would be seeing him today. The flannel shirt made her look soft, comfortable; and the patched jeans reflected the fact she was used to working, not just being a pretty face. Her face was bare of makeup, not that it needed any. On top of it all, her poise was refusing to let her apologize for any of it. He wanted to smile but knew she would misinterpret it—certainly not take it for the compliment it was. Not everyone could look superb in what she was wearing, and she pulled it off without even trying.
“I hear you were in Georgia last week,” she offered.
“For three days. A sports-apparel convention.”
“Are you thinking you might add to whom you currently represent?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m going to do,” Adam replied. “The contracts are coming up for renewal. I’m still deciding what I want to do at this point.”
“No pressing desire to see yourself center stage during a Super Bowl commercial?”
“I’ll be in one of those this next year.”
She looked a little nonplussed. “Oh.”
Adam shifted uncomfortably. His face and name recognition was something he couldn’t undo. It was one of the obstacles they eventually would have to deal with.
They reached the farm in less than an hour. It was truly set out in the middle of nowhere, with no discernable signs to direct someone coming to visit.
“I gather some of the horses stabled here are valuable?” Adam asked Sara as they left the car.
“Very. Some go as high as seven figures.”
The chief stable hand was delighted to see them. The Graysons were in Connecticut for the weekend he told them. They were going to be disappointed they had missed the chance to visit.
Sara strolled toward the nearest paddock by the barn; it went on for acres. A shrill whistle brought several horses’ heads up from grazing, and a few began to wander toward the white fence. She let her hands linger on their muzzles, stroking their necks.
Adam joined her at the fence, resting his forearms on the top bar.
“This is Cobalt, Ruby, First Fire,” Sara strained her arms around one that was nuzzling her shoulder, “and finally this fine creature is Archer. Any particular one you would like to ride?”
“Which do you normally ride?”
“I normally take Ruby, and Dave takes First Fire. Depends on which needs the most exercise.”
“How about Cobalt then, if you think Linda can handle Archer.”
“She’ll have no problem. He’s big but gentle.”
Dave came from the barn carrying the first of the tack they would need. He handed Sara a bridle, rested the other three on the fence, and dropped a loop of coiled rope over the fence post. “Want me to get them?”
“No, I’ll have no problem.” Sara slipped between the rails.
Adam felt his muscles bunch ready for action. She was getting squeezed between the animals. But it was soon clear that this was something she did with ease. He remembered that photo on the mantle and wondered what had happened to Frank Victor’s ranch after his death. Sara would have spent six or seven years there. She was a natural with horses; her movements were smooth and calm and not startling to any of the animals. First Fire threatened to resist the bridle. Sara stepped back and stared at him and the animal came back to her side, seeking her favor again.
Dave and Sara saddled the four horses, both of them moving with deft hands to tighten cinches and adjust stirrups.
Linda was doing her best to start a conversation, but Adam refused to get drawn in. There had been too many Lindas in his lifetime. What he would view as polite conversation, she’d take as encouragement.
“Linda.” Dave had Archer saddled, and with one last glance at Adam she went to join Dave, accepting a hand to mount.
A few minutes later, they were underway.
Adam turned astride Cobalt to find Sara on Ruby prancing at his side. “Fine.”
“These guys have a disdain for walking, so you’ll have to hold him in check for the first bit. Once we’re in the open country, we’ll let them canter and use up some of their energy.”
Adam answered with a smile and let Cobalt prance sideways toward her. “I fully intend to enjoy every minute of it.”
Sara was magnificent on a horse. Her knees gripped tightly, the reins held lightly, and her balance shifted in tune with the animal as if she were reading the horse’s mind.
They opened and closed the gates behind them, riding single file out from the stable area until they reached a large meadow.
“If you were better acquainted with the mount you rode, I would challenge you to a race,” Sara said.
They were already splitting into couples, still riding as a foursome, but now with almost twenty yards between them. “If I were sure I could win, I’d accept.”
Sara laughed and nudged her horse into a canter.
The day could not be more perfect—the sun was shining, the temperature was comfortable, and the sky was bright blue with drifting white clouds. Adam admired the picture Sara made, storing it away in his memory, then nudged his own mount to follow suit. Sara was headed across the meadow to a line of trees.
It felt good to ride, to leave behind the pressures of work and enjoy her company.
Becoming friends with Dave had not been planned. The first invitation to a game of racquetball had been intentional. Adam wanted to know if security was being improved for Sara’s movements across the concourses, but he hadn’t planned on the friendship. Now it was strong enough it would probably last even without Sara being part of the equation. They were men of like spirits, driven by love for God, care for family, ambition to make their world a better place, and a mutual enjoyment of sports.