Unexpected Secrets, page 6part #1 of Hard Limits Suspense Romance Series
“What happened next?” Cox encouraged.
I tossed my head back and leaned against the wall next to the window, my arms still tight around my center.
“I jammed my elbow into his nose just as he was shoving me inside. He roared. He was so angry—but it was enough for me to pull away. At that same moment, a car came onto the bridge at the far end. It distracted him and I ran to the back of the car. He jumped into his car and drove off, quickly. The car coming toward me on the bridge stopped and rolled down their window. It was a guy. He just stared at me for a few seconds and then asked, ‘Are you okay?’ Clearly, he’d seen what just happened. I said, ‘I am, thanks to you.’ He asked me if I wanted a ride, and I said, ‘No offense, but I don’t know you.’ He just looked at me—he got it. He grabbed a business card from his dashboard and wrote his name and phone number down. He handed it to me and told me to call him if I needed anything. Then I turned around and ran back to campus on autopilot. I was shaking, and furiously angry, and had absolutely no idea what to do.”
“So what did you do?” Again, it was Cox asking.
“I called a good friend—a guy that I’d hung out with whom was in the law program at Penn. He went with me to the Dean, and they pulled this guy out of class. I never saw him again. I don’t know what happened to him—I don’t even know his name.”
Then I collapsed into the chair beside Gabriel. “It would be unlikely that he could track me here, right?” I asked hopefully, looking from Gabriel to Cox.
Cox started to speak, but Gabriel held up his hand. “Did you talk to anyone else about this?”
“You mean at Penn?” I asked Gabriel, confused. “I just told you I did.”
“No, I mean did you talk with anyone personally about this experience and how it impacted you?” His eyes locked with mine.
I inclined my head toward him and raised my eyebrows indignantly. “I did, actually. My friend in the law school—his family was from Philly and his mom was a therapist—I saw her for a few months. So, back to my question, how do we find out if someone is following Mackenzie—or me—and what do we do once we know? And if it isn’t someone following me…” I turned to Gabriel, “Who would have cause because of your work? Give that some thought,” I said as I rose. “Mackenzie has to be tired. I’m going to get a snack prepared for her, and we can continue this conversation when I’m done.”
I felt more like myself now it was all out in the open, and I was back in control.
“Sounds like a plan,” Gabriel agreed, his eyes holding mine before I broke contact and left the room.
“I’m sad that Daddy’s gone again.”
“I know, sweetheart, but it sounds like he’ll be back very soon if they solve this case quickly.”
“He always says that, but it never comes true.” Mackenzie sat with her chin resting in her hands, and a pout on her face. “I liked it better when he didn’t work.”
“Well, I could use some help with my work. Would you like to help me with dinner?”
Mackenzie perked up at that. “Really? I can help?”
“Sure you can. If you can stir this mix for me, I’ll work on getting the bread in the oven.”
“What is this?” Mackenzie asked, her nose wrinkled as she stared at the contents of the bowl.
“It’s a secret recipe that used to be my grandmother’s, and I think you’re going to love it.”
“You have a grandmother?” Mackenzie asked with surprise.
Thea chuckled. “Yes, I had a grandmother, silly, and she was quite a lady.”
“Because she was a very strong and independent woman, and even though she encountered hard times in her life, she pushed through all of it and made a wonderful life for herself.”
“I don’t see my grandmother very much.”
Oops. I wondered if I’d made a mistake by mentioning mine, but decided to see where Mackenzie would take this.
“How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay. What would you like to talk about?”
“Are you going to stay here with me, Thea?”
“Of course, Zee. You know I’m your nanny, and I stay here every day.”
“No, I mean are you going to live here forever with Daddy and me?”
“That’s a big question, Zee. I’m not sure I can answer it.”
Zee threw the spoon down on the kitchen island and ran from the room.
I sighed. This was another thing Gabriel and I would need to talk about when he got home. How were we going to deal with Mackenzie’s questions around how long I would be here, and whether I would stay forever?
It was hard to believe that just a few days ago Gabriel had asked if I would stay permanently with them, but then we didn’t have the chance to explore what that meant.
The strange thing was, I could see myself staying here forever with Gabriel and Zee. I’d grown to love that little girl more than I knew was possible, especially in such a short period of time. Add to that the attraction I felt toward Gabriel—how I missed my conversations with him, and yes, even his intense gaze on my body… That was another thing I couldn’t have anticipated when I’d moved to Yarmouth to be a nanny.
I wasn’t sure I believed in fate, but I was sure that it felt right to be here, with Mackenzie, and I knew opening my heart to this sweet little girl had changed me in ways that defied logic, and defied the plans I thought I’d had for the future.
What was that? A whimper?
I turned the stove top off and walked into the hallway, listening for the sound. It was coming from upstairs. Mackenzie! Taking the stairs two-by-two, I followed the sound to Mackenzie’s room. She was crying, no sobbing, and it broke my heart. I knocked on her door, “Zee, can I come in?”
Damn. This was one of those moments when I had to believe that a biological mother would know exactly what to do—but I had absolutely no idea. I decided to appeal to Zee’s softer side. “Zee, please, I would really like to come in.”
Mackenzie sniffled loudly. “Okay, you can come in,” her dejected and sad little voice reached my ear through the closed door.
I opened Mackenzie’s door and moved to the edge of her bed. “Zee, what’s wrong?”
“All I want is a family.” She sobbed. “All I want is for you to stay here forever and be my new mom and marry my dad and—and I want a puppy, too!” she wailed.
I bit my lip. For a five-year-old, all of these things probably seemed bigger than life, and when you add to that all she’d been through—it made me realize why this whole situation was very complicated.
The house phone rang. “Hey Zee, I’ll bet that’s your dad. Would you like to talk with him?”
“Y—yessss!” She sobbed. “I want my daddy!”
“Okay, Zee. I’ll go get the phone and be right back.” I ran from Mackenzie’s room to catch the phone before it stopped ringing, and caught it just before it went to voicemail, recognizing Gabriel’s cell phone number.
‘Gabriel?” I said breathlessly as I put the receiver to my ear.
“Yes, it’s me. Is everything okay? I tried your cell phone, but you didn’t answer.” His concern came through loud and clear, and I marveled at the relief I felt when I heard his voice.
“Yes, things are okay, but Zee’s having a really hard time tonight. She misses you. She’s in her room crying, and I’m worried that our conversation before dinner may have made things worse.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s fixated on the fact that she wants me to stay… forever, and it’s a huge issue for her right now. Honestly, I don’t know how to help her resolve it.”
“I’m not sure either of us can, Thea. We can support her and be consistent with our responses, but sometimes it just takes time for a child to process something. When that happens, it’s tough on everyone.”
“Are you there, Thea?”
“Yes, I’m here.” I cleared my throat. “I’m on my way back to Mackenzie’s room so you can talk to her. Zee, here’s your dad,” I said as I handed the phone to Zee and turned to leave her room. “Come downstairs when you’re through, Zee, and we’ll eat.”
After dinner was over, I read several books to Zee and helped her get ready for bed. The poor girl was completely exhausted, and I hoped she would sleep through the night. I stayed with her until she fell asleep and then quietly closed her door.
The house felt strangely quiet, and I felt unease settle in my stomach. I knew the house was secure, and SOS had a security team outside, but that did nothing to make me feel better. Something was off, and I couldn’t tell what it was.
I walked downstairs and into the living room where I clicked on the gas fireplace and grabbed a book by one of my favorite authors, hoping to lose myself in the story.
It was early fall in Yarmouth and the Maine evenings grew cool quickly. The days were beautiful and often warm, but the nights could be chilly. The stars seemed to shine more brightly, happy that the earth was growing cooler.
I tried, but I couldn’t shake the fact that something felt wrong. I picked up my cell and dialed Fran’s number. She had told me to call anytime I needed to, and I decided that even if this was a false alarm, I wasn’t going to ignore the feeling that something was off. Not when Mackenzie’s life was potentially in danger, too.
Fran picked up on the second ring. “Hey, Thea.”
“Is everything okay?”
“I don’t know. Something feels off. I hate to bother you, and I don’t want to seem like an alarmist, but I can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right.”
“You did the right thing, Thea. Stay inside with the doors locked, and I’ll check in with the team, then call you back, okay?”
Two minutes passed, and Fran still hadn’t called back. I decided to try to figure out if I could access Gabriel’s security system.
I entered his office and turned the light on, walking toward the bookcase. There must be a trigger here somewhere. I felt along the edge of the bookcase, but nothing moved. My fingers pressed along the wall to the left of the bookcase, and I found a small square section of the wall. Was that a seam? It wasn’t visible, but I could feel it. I tried to pry it open, but it wouldn’t budge, so I pushed on it and the bookcase started to move.
My eyes lit up; I may not have had what it took to join the CIA, but I loved the idea of being a spy—I’d had romantic notions about it since I was a teenager. That is until I realized I’d potentially have to shoot and kill someone in the line of duty. After graduate school, they’d tried to convince me that they could train me, but that only solidified my decision that it wasn’t the right career path for me.
I didn’t want to be trained to go against my conscience. I wanted to follow my heart.
My thoughts wandered to my cousin who had worked for the CIA as a translator, he’d been fluent in six languages, but after three years, he’d had to get out. I didn’t know the details, because he wouldn’t say anything, or they’d have to kill him, right? But I had the sense that the contents of the documents my cousin had been translating were graphic—so much so that he seemed to reach a point where he couldn’t handle transcribing those details any longer.
That had been a factor in my decision as well.
I felt a glimmer of excitement as the bookcase continued to move. Suddenly I forgot all about my feeling that something was off, wowed by the technology in front of me. That is—until I realized that the cameras covered far more than just the entrances to the house. That little shit…
I looked from screen to screen to confirm that there were no cameras in any private areas or the bedrooms, and there weren’t, but there appeared to be audio enabled, and… what was this? The lower right screen contained a main menu. I clicked it, and the screen filled with options:
Remote App: Enabled. That creep, he can see everything when he’s traveling, too?
Infrared: Enabled. Well, that’s good, at least. I scrutinized the screens to see if I could see anyone on the monitors. No movement. Okay, phew.
Audio: Enabled. My eyes narrowed. Double creep.
Suddenly I was grateful I’d done all of my work-related research at the library instead of home.
Was he listening in to every conversation I had with Mackenzie?
I did another review of all the screens, and all systems seemed fine, so I closed the menu and pushed the square section to see if that would close the bookcase. It started sliding back into place.
Now I was left with deciding how to handle the fact that Gabriel that little shit had been spying on me, without my knowledge.
Okay, maybe he’d disclosed after the fact that he had cameras, but he had never mentioned audio, or remote capability, or the truth behind how extensive the cameras were.
My phone vibrated in my jeans pocket. I glanced at the display, Fran.
“Hey, Thea. Cox is on the ground, and he said everything looks fine from what he can tell. Are you okay?”
“Interesting question. I figured out how to gain access to Gabriel’s security system and realized he’s been spying on my every move without my knowledge. So no, I’m not okay. But if you’re asking whether there’s a serial killer in the house, or we’re in danger, not as far as I can tell. Good night.” She decisively hit End on her phone.
It wasn’t two minutes before Gabriel’s name popped up on my phone. I hit the Ignore button, walked into the kitchen, and hit Ignore again when he tried calling back a second time. If he’d talked to Fran, he knew we were safe, and beyond that, he didn’t deserve any more information, as far as I was concerned—or maybe he knew it all, anyway. I should probably go disable the “App” option on the alarm system and see how that would make him feel.
I started walking up the stairs and heard my phone buzzing on the kitchen counter for the third time. It dawned on me that he could probably hear me. “Mackenzie is safe, Gabriel,” I said as loud as I could. “My phone is in the kitchen and I’m going to bed. You’re lucky I didn’t disable the remote option on the security system.”
My phone stopped buzzing, and I continued down the hallway to check on Mackenzie before retiring to my room.
The week passed uneventfully. I was still bothered by the fact that I’d felt so strongly that something was wrong on Monday night—it worried me—but at the end of each day; I was just grateful Mackenzie and I were both safe.
Fran and Cox checked in several times per day, and I hadn’t had any more gut feelings that something was wrong, or any feelings of being watched when I picked Mackenzie up at school.
My days at the library seemed like every day before that.
The fact that it was Friday loomed in front of me as I dropped Mackenzie off at school and watched her walk inside with her classmates. I’d chosen not to speak with Gabriel at any length when he called each day—opting to give the phone to Mackenzie, instead.
Was it mature? No, but I was certain he got the point. I was nervous about his return home today, and I wasn’t at all sure what to expect.
Fran stopped by daily for a Tai Chi lesson with Mackenzie, and I’d decided to join them after day two. It had become a highlight for both of us, which in reality created yet another conflict as I tried to reason through my growing love for Mackenzie, Mackenzie’s feelings for me, Gabriel’s invitation to stay permanently, and Gabriel’s decision to leave critical details of the home security system out of our conversations.
I felt violated, and I didn’t k
Gabriel was a good man, there was no doubt about that, but I wasn’t sure I could forgive him for his omissions.
The flip side of all of this was Mackenzie. This sweet, precious girl had won my heart in ways I didn’t know were possible, and what was I supposed to do with the fact that I was just her nanny?
No sooner had that thought filtered through my mind, then I heard the garage bay open.
Panic hit my throat at the thought of seeing Gabriel. I stayed in the kitchen, waiting for Gabriel to come to me.
I didn’t have to wait long. I heard the front door close, footsteps to his office, and a thump of something being dropped on the floor. The footsteps started again, drawing closer to the kitchen. I looked up from the kitchen table where I was working on my laptop. He stopped in the doorway, and I closed my laptop down.
He stood in the doorway for two or three seconds, then walked toward me.
I stayed in my chair. “How was your trip?”
“Productive,” he said as he pulled the chair out next to me and sat down. “You’re angry with me.”
“That might be an understatement.”
He nodded and waited.
“Gabriel, I’m not one of your clients, nor am I one of your subjects at whatever government agency you whisk off to at a moment’s notice. Please don’t play games with me. Just say what you have to say.”
“I tried, Thea. You wouldn’t speak to me beyond a ‘hello’ and a quick rundown of Mackenzie’s activities for the day. You’re angry with me because I kept the details of the security system from you.”
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