Undercover Father, page 18
“But what?” she breathed.
“I thought you were different. That you had a heart, a soul.” He shook his head. “My mistake.”
“I guess we both misread the situation,” she said. “But thankfully we didn’t get too involved.”
She could speak for herself on that one. The last time he’d felt pain like this, he’d been grieving. Now it was mingled with anger and disgust and a sense of complete loss. “Yeah, thankfully. Who needs a cold, manipulative, self-serving—”
She stared at him, her eyes overly bright, then she hit him. Her hand struck his face, and he didn’t move. Fire radiated in his cheek, but he didn’t touch it. She pulled her hand back, staring at it in horror, as if it had functioned on its own. Then her cell phone rang, and they both froze, waiting to see what she would do.
She didn’t answer it. Instead, she turned from him and left the room.
She was gone and he was alone. He sank down on the pink plastic chair, buried his head in his hands and tried to blot out everything. But nothing stopped the pain radiating through him, or the way he’d let himself care so much. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Ever.
* * *
MEGAN DIDN’T THINK anything could hurt worse than when she’d heard Rafe talking to Brad. She’d been wrong. Seeing him that last time had been worse. She worked the rest of the day on the nineteenth floor, and by the time she went back down to the center at five-thirty, she’d spent most of the afternoon in the ladies’ room near Legal, crying. She’d given up trying to breathe correctly, or thinking she could concentrate on anything. She was leaving.
All she had to do was pick up the paperwork she’d left in Mary’s office, then she was gone. She’d leave it on Mr. Lawrence’s desk, then head to the loft. From there, she was going back to San Francisco. She’d pack, make sure the cat had food, then get on a plane and go home. Simple. Just do it.
She went into the center, skirting around the few kids watching a video on TV, but never made it out before Gabe spotted her. He scrambled to his feet and ran toward her, tangling his arms around her legs and smiling up at her with that dimple. She swallowed hard and crouched in front of him as Greg ran over in turn.
“We want to go riding horses, and Mary says we can’t,” Greg said. “You talk to her. You tell her we ride all the time.”
“Sweetheart, I can’t tell her anything. It’s up to your daddy to talk to her about things like that.”
Gabe moved closer and put his arm around Megan’s neck. The action only made her pain more unbearable. She had to leave their dad, and now them. The fact was she loved all of them, no matter what, but she couldn’t be here. “You talk to Daddy,” Gabe said.
She closed her eyes. “Honey, you have to do that.”
“Oh, okay.” Gabe sighed. “But he’s real busy. Real busy,” he said with emphasis and a roll of his huge dark eyes. “He’s always real busy.”
“Well, I’m busy right now, too.” She took a breath. “But I just wanted to say that I’m sure happy we met.”
“Me, too,” Greg said.
“Yeah, me, too,” Gabe echoed.
She stood, her legs shaky, and tried to smile at them. “You two go and watch the movie. I’ve got to get some things from the office.”
Greg ran off, but Gabe hesitated for a minute. “You sad, Megan?” he asked, studying her intently.
“Me, sad?” she asked. “No, I’m not sad.”
“Good,” he said, relieved, then ran off after his brother.
She turned from them, moving quickly toward the office, and thankfully got inside before the burning in her eyes turned to tears. She hadn’t cried much in her life, but hadn’t been able to stop for most of the afternoon. She crossed to the pink chair and dropped down in it, sorting through the stuff on the desk to find the ever-present box of Kleenex.
She tugged some tissues out of the box and dabbed at her eyes, then blew her nose. She never heard the door open, and didn’t realize someone was there until she heard Mary say, “Megan, honey, are you all right?”
She could have made up some lies about allergies or something, but didn’t have it in her at that moment. She sagged back into the chair and looked up at her friend. “I’m leaving. I’m going back to San Francisco.”
The woman came closer. “Oh, no. That Mr. Lawrence didn’t fire you, did he?”
A few weeks ago that would have been the worst thing Megan could imagine happening, but not now. “No, he didn’t.” She still had to tell her boss. “I just have to get back to the city.” She wiped at her eyes again and balled the Kleenex in her right hand. “Don’t worry about this job, though. I have the center’s business all worked out, and the incorporation papers are ready to file. Anyone can finish it for you.”
“I don’t care about that,” Mary said quickly. “I mean, I do, but if this isn’t about work, what is it about?”
Megan had never been one to confide in anyone about her feelings or her fears, but for some reason, when Mary touched her clenched hand and sat on the edge of the desk, she found herself spilling everything to the woman. She told her things she’d only thought about to herself, things that she wouldn’t have dreamed of telling another living person. And once she started, she couldn’t stop.
“And he had a lousy bet. A bet!” she finally declared, finishing with a choking gasp.
The room was silent, then Mary moved around behind the desk, sat down in the wooden chair and faced Megan. She leaned forward and took both of Megan’s hands in hers. The tears were quietly falling now, and they wouldn’t stop.
“Okay, you think he did all of this for a bet?”
She pulled her hands back and hugged her arms around herself. “I know he did. I heard him.” She reached for another Kleenex and wiped at her eyes. “He called me the ‘ice princess’ and took money from that man.” She bit her lip hard. “Twenty dollars, and he owed him more.”
Mary sat back and sighed. “What a mess. But you know...” Her voice trailed off and she sat looking down at her hands in her lap.
“What?” Megan finally asked.
Mary looked at her, her pale eyes behind her glasses dead serious. “I shouldn’t intrude on this. I mean, you’re sure what you heard, and what you have to do, but...”
Megan felt her nerves fraying even more. “But what?” she finally asked as she shredded the Kleenex in her hands.
“Before you heard this conversation, what did you think of Rafe?”
She shrugged. “I thought...” She exhaled and spoke in a rush. “I thought I loved him and that he was...he was the one.” She held up her left hand, with its bare ring finger. “I broke up with Ryan, everything, because of Rafe.”
“Even though he’s just a security guard, you love him?”
Megan sighed harshly. “That never mattered. He’s who he is, but I thought he was someone he’s not.”
“But what if he is who you think he is? What if he’s everything and more than that?”
“But he’s not.”
“Indulge me on this.”
“Okay,” she whispered, tossing the Kleenex onto the desk and clasping her hands tightly in front of her. “Okay.”
“What if he’s everything you thought he was, and you walk away? What if he might be the love of your life and you never tell him? What if you go through life without him, and what if, somewhere down the road, you find out you were wrong, very wrong? Oh, you might have a good life, but not with him. What then?”
Megan hadn’t thought any further ahead than her plane flight. “What if he’s not what I thought at all? What if I’m right about him using me?” Even saying the words hurt. “What if that’s true?”
“It very well could be,” Mary said softly. “But it might not be, too.” She leaned forward again and covered Megan’s hands with hers one
Megan blinked rapidly, her lashes damp with tears. “Who...?” And she knew. “You and Mr. Lewis,” she said, and it wasn’t a question.
Mary actually flushed slightly and drew back after patting Megan’s hands. “Was it that obvious?” she murmured.
“No, not at all, but...” Megan remembered seeing them together in this office. “I thought you were good friends. I didn’t know....”
“Well, years ago I left Robert when things looked pretty bad. I went on, married my husband and had a good life. But I never forgot Robert. And when we met again, I found out that all I would have had to do was talk to him honestly. He thought I didn’t love him, and he walked away when I did. And it was a total waste. Don’t make my mistake, Megan. Don’t give up until you know for sure there’s nothing there.”
Megan gazed at her wordlessly.
“Would it be any worse if you found out you were right?” Mary asked softly.
She shook her head. “No, it couldn’t be.”
“Then find out, honey, before you do anything else.” The phone rang but Mary ignored it. “Please, just find out.”
Megan swallowed hard and swiped at her eyes. Mary was right. She couldn’t feel worse, and she really needed to know everything. “Okay, I’ll try to talk to him.”
“That’s wonderful,” Mary said. “No matter how it turns out, you won’t regret it.”
Megan just hoped that was true. “I’ll try to find him before I leave.”
“He’ll be here at six for the boys. Although maybe you’d rather meet him alone?”
She wasn’t sure she could be alone with him and do anything rational. “I’ll...I’ll find him,” she said as the phone started to ring again. “The phone?”
Mary patted her hand, then stood and reached for the receiver. “Yes?” She was silent for a moment, then said, “I’ll be right there.” She hung up and looked at Megan. “I need to get upstairs. A problem.” She looked flustered. “I’ll talk to you later,” she said, and hurried off.
Megan put all of her papers together in her briefcase, then left the office. When she stepped out into the play area, the boys were there with the teenager, watching a video about a mermaid. They both turned when she got close, and both scrambled to their feet to hurry over to her. They were jumping up and down, babbling about horses and cowboys and animals and ranches. None of it made sense to her, but distracted as she felt today, she wasn’t listening too carefully.
“Miss Gallagher?” The teenager was coming toward her. “Do you know where Mrs. Garner went?”
“She had something she had to do upstairs.”
“Did she say how long she’d be gone?”
“No, she didn’t.”
The girl frowned, glancing at the oversize watch on her thin wrist. “She knows I have to leave now. I’m going to be late for tryouts. They’re doing a play at the community center near where I live and I’m up for a part.” She nibbled on her lip. “I hate to be late.”
Megan patted both boys on the head as they clung to her legs. “Is it just Greg and Gabe left?”
“Yeah, their dad’s coming in a few minutes. Do you think you could sit with them until he got here?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I—”
“Please, they’re crazy about you. They talk about you all the time, and about Charlie scaring you, and things.”
“Please stay,” the twins were saying as they jumped up and down. “Please, Megan, please.”
She looked down at them and found herself agreeing. “Okay, go on to your rehearsal,” she told the girl.
“I owe you,” she said, and ran off toward the back of the center.
Megan looked down at the two upturned faces and wondered when she’d changed so drastically. They were wonderful kids. And if everything with Rafe turned out to be as she thought it was, it would only add to her pain to walk away from the boys, too. She’d have to, but she wasn’t sure how she could do that and survive.
“HOW ABOUT READING a book?” she asked, remembering what Quint had told her. When in doubt, find a book with an animal in it and read it to them. She’d have a few minutes with them, and she suddenly wanted that very much.
“Yeah, sure,” Greg said, grabbing her hand and trying to drag her to the bookshelves beyond the tree. She went with the two of them, and Greg found a huge book with a horse on the cover. They settled in the corner on the carpet, and with a boy on each side, she started to read the story of a pony that dreamed of being a racehorse.
She read the story twice, and was being begged to read it again when she glanced at the wall clock and saw it was ten minutes after six. Rafe was late, and a part of her was relieved to have had a bit more time before her life changed forever. She started the book again, and the boys were as rapt as the first time. When she finished and closed it, she glanced nervously at the clock once more. Twenty minutes after six.
She put the book away, then got to her feet and held out her hands to the boys. “Your dad’s late. Why don’t we go and see if we can find him?”
“Yeah,” Greg said, grabbing her hand, while Gabe took the other.
The three of them left the center, going out into the main reception area, but there was no sign of Rafe, or any security guard by the doors. That was unusual. “How about going up in the elevator?” she asked the boys.
“Way up?” Greg asked with real anticipation in his face.
“Well, a few floors up,” she said, and crossed to the elevators. She let Gabe push the button, and when the doors opened, they got in. The boys never let go of her as they turned to face the closing doors. Greg pushed the button for the level Security was on, and they started up.
They checked the Security offices, but no one was there, and Megan decided to go up to her own floor. Rafe had been there a few nights around this time. I was looking for you... She tried to get his words out of her mind and concentrate on the boys, who were enjoying the elevator ride. She didn’t think Rafe would be looking for her now. The elevator stopped and the three of them stepped out into the reception area of Legal.
Ellen was at her desk, hurriedly stuffing things into her purse, and she looked up at Megan. “Hold the elevator!” she said, running around the desk and toward them. She got inside, and by the time Megan turned, the doors were closing and Ellen was gone.
Greg tugged hard on Megan’s hand. “What’s that smell?”
She took one whiff and knew what it was. Smoke. She looked around and saw a wispy cloud in the hallway that lead down to Mr. Lawrence’s office. Then she heard voices, loud voices, one of them yelling “Get out of my way!” There was a sound of scuffling, then someone was coming right at them. Brad McMillan. Running hard. Megan saw Rafe right behind him. At first she thought they were running from the smoke, but Brad pushed past them, almost knocking them over in the process.
Then Rafe was there, his hat gone, his shirt half untucked, and he stopped when he saw her and the boys. “What are you doing up here?” he demanded, grabbing her by one arm. “Get them out of here! Now!”
The moment he spoke, a loud warning siren began to wail, and sprinklers came on overhead. Water was everywhere. “No elevator,” Rafe said, and caught her arm, all but dragging her and the boys toward the stairwell. He pushed open the door, then pulled them with him. “Get down to the bottom level, and find Zane Holden. He should be back by now. Tell him McMillan’s going to the roof.”
She wanted to say she wasn’t going anywhere without him, but she could feel the boys shaking, and she knew she didn’t have a choice. “Rafe, please, come with us.”
He hesitated, and she knew he wanted to. Then he shook his head. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“Daddy?” Greg said asked, his voice quavering.
“You go with Megan and I’ll be right down,” he said, then he looked back at her. “Stay with my boys.” He hesitated, then took off, heading up the stairs.
She knew in that moment that her heart was going with him, and that Mary had been right. Megan couldn’t leave, not until she knew for sure what she had here, or what she didn’t have. She turned with the boys and started down the stairs as fast as they could go.
Thankfully, they did what she said, and never faltered, finally reaching ground level. She pushed the fire door open and hurried into the hallway beyond where the air was still blessedly free of smoke. The three of them almost ran into firemen rushing toward the stairs.
“It’s up on the nineteenth floor in Legal,” she said to them. “A lot of smoke, and there are two men up there going toward the roof.” The fire captain called out orders, told her to get outside, and his men followed him into the stairwell.
Megan backed up, holding tightly to both of the boys, then turned and almost ran into Zane Holden. The man was not in his usual suit, but in jeans and a chambray shirt, his hair mussed, with the shadow of a beard on his jaw. He saw the boys, then her. “Where is he?”
“Rafe, he...he said to tell you it’s McMillan and he’s after him.”
The man blanched. “Where?”
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