Undercover father, p.11

Undercover Father, page 11

 

Undercover Father
 


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  “Dad?”

  “Robert Lewis. He’s my father.”

  Megan had had no idea. “Oh,” she murmured weakly.

  “So, can you watch them for a bit?”

  She hesitated, and finally said, “I’ll go on in and let Mary know I’m here.”

  But she didn’t have to do that. There was the sound of voices, then Robert Lewis came out of the back hallway. He glanced at Brittany, and said briskly, “See you at the house,” then looked at Anthony—his nine-year-old grandson, Megan realized. “Don’t be late,” he advised, and then was gone.

  Before Megan could say anything, another man came down the hallway, a lean gentleman in his middle sixties, wearing jeans, boots and a simple white shirt that contrasted starkly with his tanned skin. He saw Megan and Brittany, nodded to them and kept going right out of the center.

  “Oh, boy,” Brittany muttered, but before she could say anything else Mary arrived, looking flustered. When she saw them, she stopped, taking the time to smooth her hair before she came closer. Brittany said, “The Barnes boy will be picked up in a few minutes. His mother got tied up with work. And the twins are heading out by six. Anthony and I are off to Dad’s tonight for dinner. Matt has to work late.”

  They had said Rafe would be there at six to get the boys, so Megan had a while to get out. She hadn’t really spoken to him since that day when Gabe had tried to leave, and she was certain Rafe was trying to avoid her. Not that she blamed him, after what she’d said about the boys’ mother, his wife.

  “Thanks, Brittany,” Mary said. “If you could put away the paper, it would be very appreciated.”

  “Of course.” The other woman looked at Megan. “Fun, fun, fun,” she said, and headed off to collect the scattered pages on the floor.

  “Do you have those copies for me?” Mary asked.

  “Oh, yes. Here.” She handed her the file. “The contracts are in there, and also the readouts of the funding procedure you agreed on before. Some charts of the expenses, as well.”

  “A little light reading before bed,” she joked as she took the papers.

  Welcome to the club, Megan thought. She had tons of reading ahead of her tonight, too. “Just let me know if you have any questions?”

  Brittany reappeared. “Anthony and I are leaving now.”

  “Thanks for the help,” Mary said. Brittany said her goodbyes and the two of them left.

  Gabe and Greg were in the corner, Megan noticed, cleaned up from the paint and hunkered down over something she couldn’t see.

  “These are the final readouts?” Mary asked her.

  “Yes, I believe so.” Then she remembered something. “Oh, no, I was supposed to pick up an envelope for you at the desk in Legal and I totally forgot. Ellen had it—still has it,” she said with a grimace. “She was there when I left, so—”

  “No problem.” Mary started toward the center entranceway. “I’ll go and get it from Ellen. Stay with the kids for a few minutes?” She didn’t wait for a response before she was out the door.

  “Great,” Megan muttered, glancing at the boys, who were still focused on something across the room. She looked around, then shrugged. “A few minutes.” She could do a few minutes.

  She moved back, saw a small bench by the climbing tree and sank down on it, feeling like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians. She looked over at the boys, who both stood and gazed over their shoulders at her at the same time. Once the Barnes boy was picked up, Megan turned her attention back to the twins.

  One whispered something to the other, then with their hands behind their backs, they came over to stand in front of her, one behind the other. Greg was the closest.

  “What are you two up to?” she asked warily.

  “Here,” Greg said, and thrust something toward her that he cradled in both hands.

  She looked down at the biggest rat she’d ever seen, just inches from her face, and couldn’t stop the scream.

  * * *

  RAFE HEARD A SHATTERING scream just as he approached the doors to the center, and without taking time to think, he rushed inside. Gabe and Greg were running around the main room, chasing something. Then he saw her—Megan. She was scrambling to get up off the floor, pushing a small stool to one side to make room, and she was yelling, “Catch it! Catch it!” to the boys as she hugged her arms around herself.

  The boys were squealing, rushing behind the tree. When they came out the other side, Rafe finally saw what they were after. A rat. A huge white-and-black rat, outrunning the boys and heading straight for Megan. She saw it at the same time he did, and moved faster than anyone he’d ever seen move in his life. She darted to her right, away from the tree and right toward him.

  He held out his hands and managed to partially break the impact when they collided, but he couldn’t stop her impetus. Falling backward, Rafe was drenched in that subtle fragrance that he realized was unique to Megan. Moments later he found himself on the floor, flat on his back, with Megan standing above him.

  Those blue eyes widened, then there was a gasp and she moved back. He pushed himself up onto his elbows. Pale slacks that he’d bet had been immaculate moments ago were rumpled and had smudges of green on one hip now. Her silky blouse had come untucked on one side, the top button undone, and one errant strand of hair had escaped from the confines of a low knot.

  She looked down at him, shock stamped on her face, then spun around. The boys were going into the opening of the tree, scrambling in one after the other. When they’d disappeared, their squeals of delight still echoed out of the opening. “Get him,” Megan called, hurrying over to the tree. She dropped to her knees, looking inside. “Get him!”

  Rafe pushed himself to his feet, then followed. “Excuse me?”

  “Hurry, hurry, he’ll get to the other side!”

  “Hello?” he said, hunkering down by her and finally letting himself touch her back. He felt the silkiness of the blouse. He drew back quickly, then said louder, “Megan, hello?”

  She scooted back on her heels, then looked up at him. “It’s a rat. Greg tried to give it to me.”

  “He what?”

  “A rat. A huge rat, and I screamed and fell and it got away, and they’re trying to catch it.”

  Rafe looked at her, at her huge blue eyes. “They were tormenting you with a rat?” he asked, trying very hard not to smile at the way she jumped when one of the boys yelled, “There, over there!”

  She got to her feet, looking around the room. “Don’t just stand there. Do something,” she said.

  “Like what?”

  She shook her hands quickly, as if trying to get rid of a creepy feeling. “I don’t know!” she exclaimed, almost jumping up and down now. “Just get him.”

  She was clearly terrified of the animal—very likely the resident rat called Charlie, part of the day care center’s menagerie. “I’ve got a gun,” Rafe said, making a joke.

  She looked horrified. “Oh, no, no,” she gasped, before realization dawned. “That’s not funny!”

  Right then one of the twins scrambled out of the tree and pushed between the two of them. “We got him,” he announced, and started to hold the rat up toward Megan.

  Rafe picked up the animal gently but deftly. “I’ll take that thing,” he said, holding the squirming rat carefully in both hands. “Now, you two tell me what you think you were doing, scaring Megan like that.”

  Unexpectedly, she interrupted. “No, that wasn’t what happened.” Both boys looked up at her now. “They were just showing it to me...I think. I hate rats, and I overreacted. It wasn’t their fault.”

  Both sets of dark eyes were on him now. Rafe hesitated. “Is that true?” he asked the boys.

  Greg spoke up. “Gabe said she’d like Charlie, and he told me to show it to her.”

  A gift to M
egan? That shocked Rafe as much as her scream had moments ago. Neither boy, but especially Gabe, had taken to many women since their mother’s death. And Megan certainly wasn’t trying to win them over. That thought stopped him. Win them over? No, she wouldn’t do that; he was sure of it. Yet in some way she had. “Okay. Just apologize, and next time, warn her, okay?”

  They both nodded. Rafe gave the rat to Greg, who turned to Megan, holding the animal against his chest. “Sorry,” he said.

  Gabe stood there, head down, and Rafe touched his hair. “Son, apologize.”

  He exhaled, then looked up at Megan. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

  Rafe wasn’t sure what to expect of Megan, but it wasn’t to see her crouch in front of both boys and actually smile at them. “It’s the thought that counts,” she said. “And as far as rats go, I’m sure he’s a lovely one. I just never liked the creatures.”

  “Girls don’t,” Greg said.

  “This girl doesn’t.”

  “Why don’t you two put him away and make sure he’s got water?” Rafe said.

  Greg turned and darted off with the rat, but Gabe hung back, then dug his hand into his overalls pocket and held something out to Megan. “Here,” he said. “It’s okay.”

  It was a cookie with a distinct bite out of one side and something red on the other. Megan looked at the object in his small hand, then smiled at Gabe. “For me?”

  “Uh-huh,” he said with a nod.

  Rafe held his breath, knowing how much it meant to Gabe to have her take it, but not sure she’d do so. “Well, thank you. This is so nice of you.” She took the cookie, and Rafe breathed again.

  Gabe darted off after his brother, and Rafe looked at Megan, who was staring at the cookie in her hand. “First a rat, now...”

  “A half-eaten cookie, and it’s chocolate chip, which is one of his absolute favorites.” Rafe tried to sound casual, but he was stunned by what had just happened. “You are such a liar,” he found himself saying.

  “Excuse me?” she asked, her blue eyes widening.

  “You said that you weren’t good with kids.”

  She blushed at his words. “I’m not. Believe me.”

  “You’ve got a magic touch with the boys. They don’t like many people, and for Gabe to give you his cookie...” Rafe shrugged. “All I can say is you’re one lucky lady.” He moved closer and touched the cookie she still held in her open hand. “And you’ve got an extra something on it, too.” He tapped the red area. “Any idea what that is?”

  He leaned in to get a better look at the cookie at the same she did. This time, though, she jerked back just before they hit heads again. The cookie fell to the floor and he stooped to get it, then looked at her. “Stand back. I think we’re pretty lethal when we get too close.”

  Words meant to be a joke made her face flame, and Rafe tried to think of something, anything to blot out the image that was there with crystal clarity. The kiss. He’d blocked it out until this moment, and now the memories came rushing back. They stood there, their eyes locked, and he didn’t know what to do, what to say. Because if he did what he wanted right then, he’d kiss her again.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  MEGAN HURRIED PAST Rafe, calling to Mary as soon as she saw her return, “Good, you’re back. I need to get going.”

  “Of course, dear,” the woman said as Megan went through the door, never looking back at Rafe or the boys. “And thank you for the paperwork!”

  Megan crossed over to the elevators, got in and hit the button. Moments later she stepped out in Legal and stopped dead.

  This wasn’t where she was supposed to be going. She was supposed to be heading to her car. She’d been ready to leave before she went down to the center. Whatever had gone on with Rafe had left her flustered, and she hadn’t been thinking clearly. She looked around and noted Ellen was nowhere in sight. Megan went past reception and back to her cubicle.

  She sank down on the chair behind her desk, took her earpiece out of her pocket and adjusted it, then said into the microphone, “Ryan. Home.” She hadn’t been able to reach him for two days, and the last time they talked, he’d been very distracted. Now she really needed to speak to him.

  When the call connected, she waited through four rings. Just when she thought she was going to get Ryan’s machine again, he answered, and the sound of his voice, so familiar and sane, made her eyes smart.

  “Ryan, it’s me.”

  “Megan. Hi, there.” He didn’t stop at that, but kept speaking quickly. “You caught me at a bad time. I’ve got a huge meeting with Lennox, the attorney, and I need to get out of here right now.”

  “Sure,” she said, almost tasting her disappointment. “I just wanted to...” What? What did she want?

  “Anything important?”

  “No, it’s not important. Can you call me later?”

  “Can’t promise, but I’ll try,” he said. With a quick, “Bye, love,” he was gone.

  She hit the disconnect button and sank back in her chair. What had she expected? To hear Ryan’s voice and find her balance again? “Stupid,” she muttered, and stood.

  She headed back out and was surprised to see Ellen back at her desk, pushing things into her purse. She must have heard Megan’s steps on the marble floors, because she turned quickly, looking vaguely guilty about something. Ellen exhaled as she pressed a hand to her chest. “Oh, you startled me. I thought everyone was gone for the evening.”

  “I was gone, but had to come back up.”

  “Oh, if you were looking for the papers for the center, Mary Garner—”

  “I know, I took care of it. I just had to make a call.” She passed the desk where the woman was standing. “I’m leaving.”

  “Have a good evening,” Ellen said.

  “You, too.” Megan got back in the elevator and turned to push the button for the ground level. Ellen was stuffing an envelope into her purse, then she glanced up, gave Megan a forced smile, and the doors of the elevator closed.

  Megan closed her eyes tightly as the elevator went downward. When a soft ding signaled the stop and the doors opened, she hesitated, then looked out into an empty hallway. She exited, glanced at the closed doors of the center, and headed back toward the parking garage. She didn’t pause until she was at her car, then stopped dead. Her keys. The keys for the car, and the alarm button. She didn’t have anything in her hands.

  She looked in car windows to make sure she hadn’t left the keys in there. But all she saw was her briefcase, her files and the box of letters. Everything but her keys. Then she remembered she’d taken the keys with her to the center. “No, no, no,” she muttered, and slapped the top of the car with the palm of her hand.

  Reluctantly, she went back into the building. But when she got to the center, the doors were locked. Mary must be gone, and it was shut up for the night. Megan exhaled. The keys had to be inside, and she had to get in there.

  She glanced at her watch and saw it was almost six-thirty. Rafe had to be gone by now. Megan headed to the guard station at the front doors, but it was vacant. She went to the floor directory, saw that Security was on the second floor and went back to the elevators. Moments later she was walking down a long hallway toward the security office. Stepping inside, she saw that the space was large, with monitors lining one wall, computers on several desks and a starkly utilitarian feel to the operation. At first she thought it was vacant, then she saw a guard off to the left near a filing cabinet. She cleared her throat and he turned abruptly.

  “I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to get into the day care center. I left my car keys in there, and it’s locked up.”

  She thought he was the same guard who had come to the gates at the ball to take Rafe’s place. The man frowned at her, then walked across the room. “Locked out, huh?”

  “Yes, I didn’t
realize my keys were in there until it was too late. I hope you can help me?”

  “Sure, no problem.” He reached for a phone on the nearest desk, punched in several numbers, then spoke into the receiver. “Meet an employee at the day care center, and—” He stopped abruptly, frowned, then said, “It won’t take two minutes. Just open up for her.” He listened for a moment, then hung up. “You go on down, and someone will be waiting for you. Just show him your ID and he’ll open up the center.”

  Her ID? It was in her briefcase in the car. “Thanks so much,” Megan said, and headed back down again, trying to figure out how to prove who she was to the guard. When she stepped out of the elevator, she saw that the door to the center was partially ajar. She pushed it open and entered the room, which was softly lit by security lights around the ceiling.

  “Hello?” she called out. “The man upstairs sent me down to get my keys.”

  As she stepped forward she sensed movement to her right, and turned just as Rafe came out of the shadows. Her heart lurched. He was supposed to have left with his kids, not be emerging out of the shadows, with his cap gone, his tie undone and his uniform shirt unbuttoned at the throat.

  “You’re not supposed to be here,” she said.

  “Oh? And you are?” he asked.

  “I meant, you were supposed to be off duty.”

  He shrugged. “Sorry I’m still here. But I’m more than willing to leave if you don’t need me.”

  “I’ll just look around for my keys. Go ahead and leave, and I’ll close up when I find them,” she said, a bit uneasy that the twins might run out at any moment and bring the rat with them. “Where are your boys?”

  “Home with their babysitter. I pulled some extra time when someone else didn’t show up for work and Carmella came to get them. And I can’t leave you alone here. I need to lock up, make sure things are secure.” He waved a hand in a sweeping motion. “Go ahead, take your best shot. Look for your keys. I’ll wait.”

 
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