Undercover Father, page 16
“But the boys weren’t in the center.”
“They’re with family for a day or two.” He leaned one shoulder against the door frame and crossed his arms on his chest. She saw his wedding band gleam in the overhead light. Then she looked at him, and knew that he’d noticed where she’d been looking. “How’s your job going?” he asked.
“It’s going well,” she said, and picked up her briefcase, ready to leave, except that he was blocking the doorway.
“Any idea if you’ll get that promotion?”
She shook her head and told him truthfully, “I don’t know yet.”
He still didn’t make a move to leave or let her pass. “How’s the cat?”
“He comes and goes, and does whatever he wants to do.”
“And Trig, the genius biker?”
“He’s gone. He took off with his friends yesterday, heading back to Colorado and, I assume, the boardroom.”
“You never can tell from first impressions, can you?”
“No, you can’t.”
He looked at her intently for a long moment, then said, “Ready?”
When she went by him, she felt his uniform sleeve brush her arm, but she kept going. He fell in step beside her, silently keeping pace with her. But when she would have stopped at the elevators, he said, “They’re turned off for maintenance. It’s the stairs or nothing.”
“Okay,” she murmured, and headed down the hallway to the stairs. When she reached the door, she went into the stairwell and started down, more aware than ever of Rafe’s presence. As they went down in silence, she felt him watching her. “Is something wrong?” she finally asked as they approached the last series of stairs before reaching the ground floor.
“No,” he said, and kept going. But when he hit the bottom landing, he turned, and she stopped two stairs above where he stood. He stared at her bare ring finger, then at her face, and said, “You know what?”
All she could think about was the memory of being in his arms at the loft. The feel of his kiss. “Uh, no, what?” she managed to say.
“I hate this.”
She hated it, too. She hated remembering so much about him, but at that moment, if she’d had to recall her first or second kiss with Ryan, she couldn’t have. “You hate what?”
“This hedging and game playing.”
Ever since they’d met, she’d felt it was a game of some sort, but the stakes were higher than she’d ever imagined. “What do you mean?”
“Small talk, acting as if we’re passing strangers who haven’t ever...” His voice trailed off, but she knew what he meant. Thankfully, he didn’t put it into words. Instead he said, “I’m acting as if I ran into you by accident in Legal. The truth is, I tracked you down. I’ve been looking for you for more than fifteen minutes, and thought you might have already left.” He narrowed his eyes. “Can I be honest with you?”
Her heart was hammering and she almost couldn’t breathe, but she managed to nod, because she couldn’t have spoken then to save her life.
“I’m out of practice with women, and I’m not sure how to do it.” He smiled ruefully, a smile that was so endearing it only made things worse for her. “But I’m willing to give it a shot.”
“You were looking for me?” she asked, shocked that she was asking that when so many other questions were floating around in her mind.
He came up a step, and it put them on eye level with each other, with no more than three inches separating their bodies. He touched the railing on either side of her, surrounding her, yet not touching her. “Yes, I was.”
“Oh,” she whispered.
“Yes, oh,” he breathed. He hesitated, then she saw him take another breath. “Will you have dinner with me tonight? Just friends, going to dinner. I’m off work, and you’re here and I’m here.” He shrugged slightly. “How about it?”
There were so many reasons to say no to his questions, so many sensible reasons, and she tried to be sensible.
He nodded toward her hand and she realized she was rubbing the place where the ring had been. “I won’t ask where your ring is. This will just be dinner and talk, and if at the end of the evening, that’s it, I won’t fight it.” He smiled a bit uncertainly. “Dinner. Food. Talking. That’s it.” He drew back, making a crossing motion over his heart. “Promise.”
She exhaled, and knew she wanted to go with him, to talk to him, to just be there. “Okay, I’ll go.”
She told him she’d meet him by his SUV while he went and changed out of his uniform. Meanwhile she made herself breathe, in and out, easy and deep, trying to settle herself. And she almost managed to do it, until she turned and saw Rafe coming out of the executive elevator across the space.
He was wearing a silky, short-sleeved white shirt with no collar, making his tan look deeper, more coppery. Black slacks set off his lean hips. He’d brushed his hair straight back from his face. When he saw her, he smiled, and the expression made her swallow hard. He was so attractive. No, not just attractive, he was gorgeous. And she felt heat flood through her as he got close, making her turn and go to the passenger door.
“I should have changed,” she said as she climbed into the SUV, but Rafe turned to face her, slowly taking in her navy linen slacks and off-white silk blouse.
Then those dark eyes met hers. “I’d say you look perfect.” He started the car and drove out of the structure and onto the evening streets. She watched him as he drove, and he spoke without looking at her. “The executive elevator’s on a separate control panel.”
“I thought you were wondering about me coming out of the elevator when I told you they weren’t working.”
“Oh,” she said, not about to tell him she was actually wondering how he could be so distracting, when all he was doing was driving the car. “And your clothes?”
“I keep a change at work, just in case.” He flashed her a glance accompanied by an easy smile. “I’ve just never had a reason to change before.”
She pressed her hands against the briefcase on her lap and for a moment missed her engagement ring. Ryan’s grandmother’s ring. It had been heavy on her finger. She covered her bare finger with her right hand and bit her bottom lip. She looked away from Rafe, out at the city around them, and felt removed from the real world. But stunningly, not alone. Not lonely at all. And she settled in the seat, letting the feeling wash over her, for now. Then the car slowed and she realized they were in a very upscale area of the city, and stopping at the valet parking of a restaurant she’d been to years ago. A very expensive restaurant she’d gone to with her brother, Quint, and his grown son.
She looked over at Rafe as he got out of the SUV, then got out when the attendant opened her door. Rafe took a ticket from the valet, then was by her side, touching her lightly on the elbow. But she didn’t move. He looked at her. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Can we...can we talk?” she asked in a voice just above a whisper. The last thing she wanted to do was embarrass him in front of the attendant.
“We can talk inside,” he said, but she stood her ground.
She looked past him toward some stone benches for customers waiting for their cars to be brought around. “Over there?” she asked, pointing to them.
He hesitated, then went with her, but he didn’t sit down. He turned to face her. “What’s wrong?” he asked, his eyes narrowed and wary.
“This place,” she said in a low voice, leaning toward him to keep the conversation just between the two of them.
“You don’t like good food?”
“Of course I do, but—”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“It’s very expensive,” she finally said, and let the words hang between them.
“I know,” he answered simpl
“But you don’t understand, this is expensive. The appetizers are over thirty dollars each. And you can forget about wine. It’s all cellared and it’s—”
He reached out and touched her lips with his forefinger, stopping her words midsentence. “I know,” he said. “And it’s okay.” His finger trailed slowly over her bottom lip before he drew back. “Can we go in now?”
“We can go Dutch,” she blurted.
That brought a soft laugh from him, then he murmured, “That won’t be necessary. Trust me.”
Before she could say anything else, he slipped his arm around her shoulders and headed inside. They were greeted by a man in a modified tuxedo, effusively welcoming them to La Porte D’or. They were lead into a private area with tables discreetly camouflaged from each other by strategically placed potted palms and ornate screens. In a room beyond, a pianist softly played old favorites.
Megan took the red velvet, high-backed chair that the host held out for her, then she sat facing Rafe. He accepted the wine list, scanned it, then looked at her. “Any preference in wine?”
“None for me, thanks.”
Then the host was gone, and Rafe looked across at her. “Relax. You’ll love the food here.”
She knew she would. She’d been here before. But that didn’t change the fact that he was spending more money than anyone should, and she couldn’t just sit back and let him do it. “Rafe, I’m not sure about this.”
He glanced at where her engagement ring had been, where she pressed her left hand to the white of the linen tablecloth. “Are you sure about the engagement?” he asked.
She drew her hand back, not about to explain herself to him—not now. “What does that mean?”
The waiter appeared and filled their goblets with ice water. Rafe lifted his and said, “To the best-laid plans.”
She couldn’t even reach for her glass. “Rafe, stop.”
He put his glass down, the water untouched. “Stop what?”
“I was wrong. I don’t think we should do this.”
She motioned vaguely around them. “This. Any of it.”
He sat forward, rolling the stem of the fine crystal slowly back and forth with his thumb and forefinger. “Why don’t you explain that to me.”
She shrugged, then reached for her glass and took a sip, unnerved to see how unsteady her hand was. “Okay, this place is far too expensive.”
“You get what you pay for,” he murmured with narrowed eyes.
“I know, I know,” she said.
“Your Ryan doesn’t take you to places like this?”
“Yes, of course, but—”
He cut off her words with his own. “I’m just a lowly security guard and my manners might not be up to par. And I definitely don’t have the wherewithal to afford all of this. Is that it?”
“Yes. No, of course not, but—”
He held up one hand, palm out—the hand with his wedding band on it. “You’re right. This is a bad idea,” he said with thinly veiled anger.
The last thing she’d wanted to do was make him angry, or embarrass him, and she’d done both. He motioned to the waiter closest to them and asked for the bill.
“Rafe, no, I just—”
He drained the last of his water, took the leather container with the bill and laid it by his glass. He stared at Megan while he took out his wallet, extracted a bill, then laid it on the leather holder. “Let’s go,” he muttered, and stood, not waiting to see if she followed.
She glanced at the money he’d left—a hundred-dollar bill and all they’d had was ice water—then hurried after him. By the time she caught up, he was outside the front doors, waiting for the valet to get the car. She reached his side and looked up at him, but he was staring straight ahead. “Rafe, please, I was just trying to say that you didn’t need to do this.”
The SUV pulled up then. Rafe handed the valet a tip, then got in. For a moment she was certain he was going to drive off before she could open the door. But she managed to get into the car before he put it in gear. The silence in the car was beyond painful, and she tried several times to think of something to say. Anything. She couldn’t bear the wall between them. A wall she’d built by offending him, when she’d only been trying to protect him.
But she couldn’t begin to find the words to apologize, so she sat back in the seat as they drove through the city. It took her a while to realize that Rafe wasn’t taking her back to LynTech to get her car. He was taking her right home. “My car’s at the office,” she said, turning to him.
He kept going as if she hadn’t said anything.
“Rafe, my car—”
“Is safe in the security garage,” he muttered.
He wouldn’t stay in the car with her any longer than necessary. “You’ve got your briefcase and your cell phone, don’t you?”
He kept driving. “Then you can do your work at the loft.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” she said. “I simply was pointing out that my car’s not here and so I won’t have a car to get to work tomorrow.”
“Good point,” he finally said.
But he didn’t turn around. He kept going. “Rafe...” she said, frustration rising in her.
“Oh, come on,” he finally muttered as they approached the street where the loft was. “People like you can call a taxi. You don’t have to worry about money.”
“Stop it,” she muttered.
He did stop, but not his words. Rather, the SUV at the curb in front of the loft. “I’ll pay for a cab,” he said. He braked with a lurch, then got out and opened her door. Before she could do anything he was pushing money at her. “Here, use what’s left over for a tip.”
She looked down at the bill in her hand. Another hundred dollars. “No,” she gasped, and thrust his hand away.
They faced each other on the sidewalk for an interminable moment, then he slowly and deliberately folded the bill in quarters and tucked into into her blouse pocket with her cell phone.
“Keep it,” he said, and went around to get in the car, leaving her standing there to watch him take off in a squeal of tires.
MEGAN FELT HER legs go rubbery and tears burn her eyes as she hurried to the entrance of the loft. She fumbled in her briefcase to get her keys, and wanted to scream when they weren’t there. “Think, think,” she muttered to herself, more than aware of the deserted street and her vulnerability standing outside. “Think!” The keys. She’d had them in Mary’s office, on top of her briefcase, and remembered picking them up when she went upstairs.
She’d gone into her cubicle, sorted the papers for Mr. Lawrence, and remembered having them in her hand in his office. Then... Her heart sank. She’d left them on Mr. Lawrence’s desk. She could almost visualize them sitting by her briefcase when she’d put his envelope on the desk. And then Rafe had shown up, and she’d never thought about the keys again.
“Oh, man,” she breathed, looking around, without any idea what to do. Trig was long gone, and he hadn’t given her the extra key or told her if it was hidden anywhere. And she didn’t know anyone else in the warehouse. She looked at the call box and saw two names by the lower loft addresses. M. Bordeaux and R. E. Randall. She took a breath, then hit the buzzer for M. Bordeaux, but it went unanswered. “Not home,” she muttered, and hit the other button. After two buzzes, a voice came over the speaker. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry. I live upstairs and I locked myself out. Could you buzz me in?”
“What’s the name?”
“Nope, don’t know any Gallagher living here,” the voice said, and she could tell it was male and older.
“Sir, I’m just staying here for a month, a
“Nope, I’m not stupid. I know the scams out there to get into buildings. You just go away,” the voice said, then cut off.
Megan stared at the call box, then reached in her shirt for her phone. She watched it fade and die. She hadn’t charged it today, and the thing was dead and useless.
“Great, just great,” she muttered. “What a mess!”
“What’s a mess?” a voice asked from behind her, a voice that startled her so much that the briefcase fell from her hold and landed on the ground at her feet.
She turned, and Rafe was there, hunkered down, putting the things that had spilled on the ground back into her briefcase. She stared at the top of his head, totally unable to think of one thing to say while she dealt with the overwhelming joy at seeing him there. But the joy was short-lived when he stood with her briefcase in his hands, and the dark eyes weren’t filled with any pleasure at all.
“Here,” he said.
She took the case, hugging it to her chest. “What are you doing back here?” she asked.
“Why are you still outside?”
“I forgot my keys again. Now why are you here?”
“I forgot something,” he said.
She put the phone back in her pocket and at the same time took out the folded currency. “Here.”
He looked at the bill, but didn’t move to take it. “I don’t want that.”
She balled it up in her hand. “Then what do you want?”
“How are you going to get inside?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll find a pay phone, get a cab and go back to work and try to find my keys.”
“Your cell phone?”
“Sad,” he said with a shake of his head. “Why don’t you just ring someone in the building to let you inside?”
“I already did, and the only one to answer thought I was trying to get into the building to rob him or something.” She shrugged. “Besides, even if I get in, I can’t open the door to the loft.”
Rafe looked up and down the street, then back at her. “How’s the cat getting in and out these days?”
MARY ANNE WILSON SERIES:
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