Unexpected secrets, p.7

Unexpected Secrets, page 7

 part  #1 of  Hard Limits Suspense Romance Series

 

Unexpected Secrets
 


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  “I’m angry,” I emphasized, “because you did more than keep the details of the security system from me—you specifically led me to believe that the security system was primarily for the exterior of the house and the entrances on the inside of the house. You failed to mention the cameras in most of the common areas or the audio capability or the fact that you have an app remotely enabled on your phone.” I paused, took a deep breath, and continued in a quieter voice, “I feel like you deceived me like you were spying on me.”

  Our eyes were locked, and for the first time since I’d met him, I didn’t feel intimidated by the intensity of his scrutiny. I was holding my own.

  “You’re familiar with the concept of a nanny cam?” he asked, his eyes never leaving mine as my eyebrows raised in disbelief. “Agree with it or not, Thea. Despite our extensive interview, there are still many things a person can hide—things that don’t come to the surface until or unless a person thinks they’re unobserved. You may not like what I did, but I did what I felt I needed to do to protect Mackenzie. I had to determine if indeed you were as good and kind as you appeared to come across in the extensive research I did, and in our interview.”

  “And did you discover anything to the contrary?” I asked, fighting to keep the tears that threatened at bay, looking down and away from his eyes.

  He reached across the table and gently moved my face back toward him. I closed my eyes and a solitary tear escaped—he brushed it from my cheek and cupped my face with both of his hands. “I discovered what I believed about you all along to be true, that you are a rare person, and as good and kind and loving as I ever could have hoped Mackenzie would have in her life.”

  And you? I wondered but didn’t voice it. “What else is out there, Gabriel? What else haven’t you told me?”

  “Fair question and I have a few for you, as well.”

  My breath hitched and my heart rate began to ratchet up. I wanted to argue with him. To reiterate that my work and history are none of his business and that all that mattered was that I took excellent care of Mackenzie, but in the back of my mind I wondered. Did my work or the project I'm working on have something to do with the fact that SOS Security thought someone might be following me or Mackenzie? Could I be endangering Mackenzie despite my best efforts to keep my work and involvement untraceable?

  I looked at my FitBit. “We have about two hours before I need to pick up Mackenzie—you first.”

  A slow smile spread across his face and I felt the sudden need to fan myself as my skin flushed. He was so sexy, and try though I might, it was difficult to be angry with him when sitting this close to him.

  It was becoming harder and harder to deny how much I craved time with him. Who was I kidding? It was harder to deny how much I craved him.

  I bit my lower lip harder than usual to bring myself back to the present and realized I’d missed more than a few sentences of his diatribe. I picked up with, “and so you can see that when the team needs me, I have to leave within hours or the trail goes cold.”

  How stupid could I be? I had no idea what he’d just said, and I likely needed to backtrack or ask questions—both to figure out what he’d just said and to buy some time.

  I still had no idea what details to tell him about how I spent my time when Mackenzie was in school. He’d already questioned why I went to the library.

  “Walk me through it, Gabriel. Exactly what kind of cases are you working on, and do they pose any threat to Mackenzie?”

  His eyes softened, and I glimpsed a sadness so deep, it appeared to have no end.

  “What happened to your wife?” I whispered.

  His eyes filled with tears. I reached out to grasp his hand, to try to bring him back from a despair so strong I nearly lost myself in it.

  “Whatever it was, Gabriel—you do know it wasn’t your fault?”

  I sat quietly as he struggled to gain control, my hand firm and steady on his. I had no idea how he kept the tears that threatened to overflow in his eyes from doing exactly that, but he did. I didn’t think it was a good sign, and I wondered if he had taken the time to talk with anyone about his grief and obvious guilt.

  I wondered if the two of us had any hope at all if he hadn’t.

  His phone rang and interrupted them. His eyes apologized.

  “Go ahead. Take it.”

  14

  FOURTEEN

  The sheer joy in Mackenzie’s face when she saw her father I together in the car was absolutely priceless. Whatever else we may face in the future—moments like this made it seem like it would be okay, like it was worthwhile.

  There was so much left unsaid between Gabriel and I. His phone call had consumed the remaining time we’d had before needing to leave to pick up Mackenzie. I worried at all that was left unsaid between us.

  Mackenzie begged to go to the ice cream parlor, and neither of us had the heart to deny her. I thought about sending a quick text to a few of the mom’s letting them know where they were headed if they wanted to join them. But just as quickly decided I didn’t want to share this moment with anyone.

  Gabriel found a parking spot, and the three of us walked together to the store, Mackenzie holding her father’s hand on one side, and mine on the other. She skipped the entire way there, and as always, I found her joy infectious. I laughed as Mackenzie dropped our hands and raced to the parlor door. It was good to see her happy.

  I glanced at Gabriel with eyes dancing, only to find him staring at me. My eyes widened; his blue eyes were dark, like a lake on a stormy day, and filled with desire. My heart nearly stopped as my breath hitched, warmth spreading from the top of my head to the very tips of my toes. He took a step toward me when Mackenzie called out from the doorway. “Come on you guys! The ice cream’s melting!”

  I turned from Gabriel toward the little girl I’d grown to love as though she were my own. “I’ll race you!” I challenged Gabriel over my shoulder as I took off running at top speed.

  How he beat me, I have no idea. I was fit, and I ran almost daily, and I thought I was fast—until today, but clearly, Gabriel was faster.

  Mackenzie squealed as her dad reached her first, picking her up and swinging her around in the air, hugging her close.

  A motion to the right caught my attention. And I thought I caught a glimpse of a blonde bun disappearing behind the darkened window of a Mercedes—the window scrolled to the top. The car took off from the curb at a screech. Was that Daisy?

  Another screech from Zee drew my attention back to the parlor, and I laughed, running the final steps to join Zee and her dad as they walked inside.

  “I’ll take a Rum-Infused-Pirate, please,” I ordered, the moment I reached the counter, well aware of a several second stare from Gabriel. Clearly he was out of the loop. I bit my lip to keep from smiling.

  “Umm. I’ll take a root beer float, please.” He turned to give me a lifted eyebrow glance.

  “I would like a jacked-up carrot cake, please,” Zee ordered with all the innocence of a five-year-old.

  This time I did laugh when Gabriel shot me a what are you teaching my daughter look.

  I shot him an oh you haven’t seen anything yet response as I pulled my wallet from my purse. Gabriel started to protest, but I stopped him short with a don’t even try it look.

  Amusement filtered through his eyes, and then Mackenzie demanded his attention. She had missed him. We both had missed him.

  I struggled to enjoy the moment and not give any space to the doubts and concerns that threatened to crowd my mind regarding all the things we’d left unsaid as I watched Gabriel walk toward the arcade game with Zee.

  I was more than just a nanny, dammit; I had a master’s degree from Penn for God’s sake and had applied for the Ph.D. program there. I was working secretly for a Senator in the U.S. government on an assignment that was slated “need to know.”

  I’d turned down a job from the CIA because I was quite certain I couldn’t perform even a fraction of the things the agency typic
ally required from their agents.

  Before falling in love with Gabriel and Mackenzie, I’d thought I could potentially juggle the world of back-seat espionage while keeping it low profile in my life. Boy, had I been wrong. I’d fallen in love…

  The faint throb of a headache threatened, and I massaged my temples with my fingertips.

  In the back of my mind, I thought I heard my name, but I was lost in my thoughts. Then Mackenzie shook my arm. “Thea, your ice cream is ready! Didn’t you hear him?” she asked.

  “I’ve got it, Zee, thanks!” I replied with a sideways glance at Gabriel.

  His eyes raked over my face, filled with questions. There would be no escape from his questions, interrogation—demands for answers once we returned home. He’d made that clear before we’d left to pick Mackenzie up from school, and it was doubly clear now.

  As we finished the final licks of their ice cream, Mackenzie jumped from her chair and declared, “I’ll be right back.” Her happiness was infectious, and Gabriel and I shared a smiled as she raced toward her friends as fast as her legs could take her.

  As wonderful as the last thirty minutes had been, there was a boulder sitting in the pit of my stomach as I considered what I should, could, and could not tell Gabriel.

  My body and heart affirmed that I wanted a permanent relationship with him, but my mind told a different story.

  Could we even trust each other? Could a family endure two people involved with government agencies? Would we destine Mackenzie to a life without parents if we did? All of these thoughts streamed through my head with the full knowledge that Gabriel had absolutely no idea what I did on the side—or at least I didn’t think he did.

  My mind briefly flashed back to a vision of me as an eleven-year-old, religiously watching news coverage of crime scenes. I’d been absolutely certain I wanted to be an FBI agent or a spy someday, and go out into the world to make a difference in a significant way.

  It was that feeling I was experiencing again with respect to my side job. I knew that the gritty stuff that agents did every day was not something I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure I could. It was really hard to imagine killing anyone—regardless of how bad or evil they were. My side gig seemed perfect in light of that.

  I had a pressing need to address something much larger than myself, which is exactly why I had decided a year ago that I would never marry or have children. Yet here I was, wanting both. Wanting it with every fiber of my being.

  Gabriel’s eyes sought mine, I could feel it, and I knew he could feel the weight on my shoulders, but I didn’t dare to meet his eyes. Not here. Not in an ice cream parlor with Mackenzie just steps away.

  Was I just being dramatic, or was there merit to my angst? In my heart I knew the stakes, the stuff that stories were made of as I battled the tug between career and family—if indeed this family was even an option any more.

  I had no idea what Gabriel was thinking, and despite the fact that Mackenzie was in bed by 7:30 p.m. every week night, there just never seemed to be enough time, especially when you added in the fact that he’d been away for work all but one week since I’d come to Yarmouth.

  Nausea flooded my stomach, and my head began to throb. I hoped that I could keep the migraine at bay—that I’d be capable of talking through the issues I was quite sure were at the forefront of both of our minds.

  15

  FIFTEEN

  Gabriel spent the hours after he’d put Zee to bed in his office on the phone. That was Friday night.

  I took Saturday and Sunday off, avoiding Gabriel by splitting my time between the library, a daily run, and then more time at the library. It stayed open late on Saturday nights, so I’d closed the place down, then returned home to find Gabriel in his office with the door closed.

  I went straight to my room.

  It had been hard not to be there to put Mackenzie to bed, but it was good for Mackenzie to have time alone with her dad. Sunday was a repeat of Saturday except the library closed at four, so I debated what do next. Should I go home and have dinner with them, or eat out?

  Home, I miss them.

  The moment I opened the door I was greeted immediately by the sweet sound of Mackenzie’s voice as the little girl ran toward her. “Thea?”

  “It’s me!” I confirmed as Mackenzie rushed into my arms for a hug. “Goodness, I missed you, and I love your apron. Are you making dinner?”

  “I missed you, too, Thea! Come to the kitchen and see what Daddy and I are cooking up.” She turned and raced through the hall, slowing only for a second to see if I was following.

  I dropped my laptop bag on the bench and followed after Mackenzie. “Mmm. Whatever it is, it smells good,” I affirmed as my stomach growled, and suddenly I realized I hadn’t eaten all day.

  My gait hitched as I saw Gabriel behind the island with a matching apron, his six-foot-plus frame seemed no less imposing, even with an apron. Somehow it only enhanced his sex appeal.

  I felt a jolt as his eyes met mine, moved to my mouth, then worked their way systematically down my body and back again. It ignited a response so strong I reached out to grasp the doorframe for support. A sly smile appeared at the corners of his mouth. He broke eye contact only when Mackenzie pulled on his arm, asking for help to get up onto the chair next to him.

  “Hey, Thea,” he offered casually as he settled Mackenzie next to him.

  “Gabriel,” I managed, breathlessly.

  “Come see, Thea,” Mackenzie insisted. “We’re making skettie from wegetables!” she exclaimed excitedly.

  Mackenzie’s voice brought me back to earth. My mind out of the gutter. “Spaghetti from vegetables, really?” I encouraged, as though I’d never heard of it before.

  “Yes. I told Daddy you’re mostly a wegetarian, cause you like wegetables better than meat, so we’re making an all wegetarian dinner for us!”

  “That’s so thoughtful, Zee, thank you,” I said with a smile that included both of them. “What can I do to help?”

  “We’ve got this covered, Thea. Go take care of your things, and join us back here in—oh, let’s say twenty minutes.”

  “Sounds great, thanks,” I said, turning to retrieve my laptop, relieved to have a few minutes to pull myself back together, and maybe change my underwear.

  You could cut the silence with a knife—it was that thick.

  Gabriel was being his typically shrink-like-self and giving me the, I’ll observe her until she finally speaks, and then analyze it stare. I was conflicted between running away—and throwing up. The anticipation of this moment had been growing all weekend, but if I were, to be honest, it had been brewing since the initial interview with him well over a month ago.

  Not that I was the only guilty party in this relationship—he had plenty to own up to—the details of his work for one, but the fact remained, the weight was in his favor in light of the fact that he was the employer and an official FBI consultant.

  None of that mattered at the moment. He was winning. I felt like I had to turn the tide.

  “Gabriel, although your skills as a shrink are no doubt exceptional, and your technique effective, this approach is more than a bit annoying to me in light of the fact that I’m your employee and not a client. This is supposed to be a conversation. A few days ago you asked me to remain here permanently. Now we’re supposed to be talking it through, and you’re using the silent technique.”

  A slight flick of his left eyebrow gave a clue that he’d heard me, but it didn’t change the fact that he appeared to be maximizing the psychiatrist card combined with FBI consultant card to its fullest.

  “If you’re going to sit here in silence, then I’m not going to sit here. There’s no point. We can either have a mutual conversation… or,” I paused, “or we can wait until tomorrow and try talking then. It’s not what I prefer. But there are so many layers going on here that to be honest, I can’t play this game anymore, or feel like I’m being psychoanalyzed. This is a waste of my time, and we don’t have a lo
t of it given Zee’s practice session will be over in thirty minutes, and then we’ll have to get her ready for bed.”

  We were both quiet for a long moment, then he began by taking a deep breath. “We were talking about the death of my wife.”

  I nodded, feeling the tension I’d been holding begin to ebb.

  “We lived outside Washington, D.C., in Arlington. I was at the FBI headquarters when I received a call from a state trooper.” He tensed and looked down at his hands before bringing his eyes back to mine. “They told me there’d been an incident at home and asked where I was. I said I was at FBI headquarters working a case; I asked what kind of incident, and they asked if I had co-workers with me. That’s when I knew something terrible had happened.”

  He licked his lips and paused before continuing. “Long story short, my wife had been murdered in our home. She’d taken Mackenzie to preschool, returned home, and neglected to lock the door behind her—or at least that’s what we think because there was no sign of forced entry.” He took a ragged breath and dragged his hand through his short hair.

  “I’m so sorry, Gabriel.”

  “There’s no reason for you to be sorry,” he shot back, in control. “As far as we can tell, there was no connection to any of my cases. The police, and FBI for that matter think that the guy was on drugs and probably looking for money, jewelry, and anything he could get his hands on to sell. He was a violent offender, out on bail, and despite our efforts to link him to one of my cases, we couldn’t—but there is ambiguity there, because I’ve worked on DEA cases in the past.”

  “Where is he now?”

  “In prison. He’ll never see the light of day—I’ll make sure of that.” Anger filled his eyes before the veil covered it. “I hired a security firm anyway, I couldn’t risk having anything happen to Mackenzie, too.”

  I nodded, understanding. I was quite sure I’d have felt the same way. “So you’re taking precautions, but there’s nothing to suggest she’s in danger because of your work.” It was more of a statement than a question, and my turn to take a deep breath, as he nodded, looking at me expectantly.

 
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