Authors: R.W. Shannon
“Thank you for calling Callahan and Associates.”
A woman greeted callers in a British accent.
“Please leave your name, number, and nature of this call at the beep. Someone will return your call shortly.”
Analeigh disconnected. Blake never mentioned that he had a secretary. Nor one that sounded beautiful. She scribbled the address for his office on a notepad. It was a brief walk from her condo and she was in need of stretching her legs.
After finishing her sandwich, she changed into a T-shirt and capri pants. Fifteen minutes later, she was standing outside of his office building. It was a tall structure made of steel and glass. The name Callahan and Associates was etched on a silver plaque to the right of the door.
She reached for the handle and gave it a tug. It was locked and since it was Saturday, she expected it to be. Still, she felt uneasy but couldn’t put her finger on why.
Her phone rang. Blake. While she turned away from the door, she answered it.
“Hey,” she said. “How was the trip?”
“It sucked. I thought about you the whole time.”
She smiled. “When will you be home?”
“I am here. I’m at the office, but will be home later tonight.”
Analeigh stopped in her tracks. “You’re at your law office?”
She turned and looked back at the building. “I’m standing outside.”
There was a long pause on his end. Analeigh’s breath caught in her throat while she waited for him to answer her. He didn’t. Her hands trembled because she realized that he was lying to her.
“I can wait,” she said. “We can grab a drink at the bar across the street.”
“No. I’m beat. I might just call it a night.”
“Well, why don’t you come down and say hello. I’d love to see you.”
Her words were met with silence. She thought she heard some voices in the background. Maybe the rustling of clothing. If he wasn’t here, where the hell was he? Panic coursed through her. Was he with another woman?
“Why are you at my office?” he asked in a salty tone.
She swallowed, struggling to keep her emotions in check. “I stumbled on your website. I decided to check it out.”
Another long pause. Then, “You don’t trust me.”
“Not when you’re acting like this. Are you here or not?”
Analeigh looked behind her and felt her shoulders drop in relief. Blake was walking toward her. Now she couldn’t breathe for an entirely different reason. It was why tears welled in her eyes while she gazed at his tall, muscular frame covered by a tan polo shirt and jeans. His dark blond hair was slightly tousled as if he’d just run a hand through it. When he stopped in front of her, he lifted his brown sunglasses to reveal his deep green eyes. Just as she pulled her phone away from her ear and disconnected it, so did he. And when he swept her up in his arms to capture her mouth with a kiss, she knew that she wasn’t just falling in love with him. She was already there. He broke the kiss but held her in a tight hug
“Hello,” he whispered into her ear.
“This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Is it? I was beginning to think otherwise.”
He released her. “It’s not you. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“We will soon. First, I need to make sure you get home safely.”
Blake placed his hand on the small of her back to guide her toward home. Although she felt better now that he was physically beside her, Analeigh couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. If he was on the fifteenth floor of the building, how did he get down to her so fast? Why was he so strangely quiet now? She wanted to question him, but decided this wasn’t the time or place. Instead, she allowed herself to enjoy the feeling of his body next to hers. When they got to her condo, he walked her to her door. He took the keys from her and opened it.
“Wait here,” he ordered.
Analeigh frowned while she watched him search her apartment, room by room. He’d done this before, so she just told herself that because of D.C.’s high crime rate, he was just being cautious. When he returned there was a smile on his face. But, she could also see the weariness in his eyes. On his signal, she stepped inside and wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Can you stay?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I have to get back. Are we still on for Mass in the morning?”
Every Sunday, they attended Mass at the National Cathedral followed by brunch at a nearby café. It was one of the highlights of her week. The juxtaposition of a strong, sexy guy who could make her eyes roll back into her head but also deeply cared about his faith was one she’d been searching her life for. Sometimes she had to pinch herself because she’d actually found him. She nodded.
“Of course,” she said. “Unless you have to leave again.”
“No. And I spoke with Duncan. We’re on for dinner this weekend.”
“Awesome! We can do it here. I’ll make my famous paella.”
Blake chuckled. “I’m sure he’s looking forward to it. And he’s bringing a date. If that’s okay?”
“That was news to me too.” He leaned forward to touch his lips to hers. “I have to go. I’ll pick you up at seven thirty.”
“I’ll be here.”
He released her and moved toward the door. “I’ll call you later.”
Analeigh watched Blake leave and close the door behind him. Was it her imagination, or did he seem a little distant? Maybe it was her surprise pop-in that caused his sulky mood. For now, she decided to let it go and turned her attention back to preparing the week’s lesson plan.
Blake held Analeigh’s hand as they filed out of the cathedral after Mass. Faith had always been an important part of his life, and given his job, he had to atone for his sins somehow. But was ridding the world of bad people a sin? They followed the other parishioners to the parking area. His thoughts and mood began to darken with each step. Yesterday was a close call. If their van hadn’t been riding by his fake office, he would’ve never seen her standing on the sidewalk outside the building. He had called her to put out whatever fire was smoldering in her mind. However, it was becoming clearer to him that it was time to end their relationship. Sensing the change in his demeanor, she squeezed his hand.
“That was a lovely message,” she said. “How we all have a place in the world. And it’s our duty to spread light in the darkness.”
“Are you okay? You seem preoccupied.”
He retrieved his keys from his pocket and unlocked the car door. “I’m fine.”
While he held the car door open, Analeigh took her time to study him. Blake glanced at her beautiful oval face and into her almond shaped, brown eyes. Her dark hair hung in curls to just past her shoulders. His gaze continued over her athletic frame accented by her teal sleeveless dress. He could give her anything in the world. Except him. And she deserved better than this.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Be honest with me.”
He exhaled. “Instead of eating in the restaurant, can we get something to go?”
“That sounds like a good idea. I think we need to talk.”
They got into the car. After stops at the restaurant and Analeigh’s condo so that she could grab a change of clothes, they drove to his place. The ride, as it had been since they left the church, was deadly silent. Blake took, and deserved, all the blame for that. As he parked the car in the underground garage, he stole a glimpse of her profile. To say she was angry was an understatement. Because of his own internal conflict, he didn’t know if he should fix this or simply let it die.
Slowly, they exited the car and made their way to the elevator. Analeigh sighed heavily as she stepped into the empty car and pressed the button for his floor. He shifted her overnight bag to grab her around her waist. Despite his conflicting emotions, he wanted her. He pulled her back against his chest and nuzzled her neck. She smelled like cinnamon. When she relaxed in his arms, he did so too.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s not you. No. That’s a lie. It is you. What’s going on, Blake?” Why can’t I shake the feeling that you’re lying to me?”
He exhaled. “I’m not lying.”
“But you are hiding something.”
Analeigh twisted around to face him. She shifted the bag of food she was carrying to place her hand on his chest. Her eyes searched his for the truth.
“What is it?” she asked softly.
“If I tell you, I might lose you. If I don’t I might lose you anyway. Either way, your life could be in danger.”
She frowned. “What does that mean?”
The elevator doors opened. Instead of answering her, Blake took her hand to lead her out of the elevator and down the corridor to his condo. As they approached his door, the one opposite his opened. A short, Latina woman stepped into the hallway. Blake looked at her, figuring this was the Jesse that Analeigh had told him about. He studied her. Dressed in a tank top and cutoff shorts with her hair in a ponytail, she seemed harmless. However, he knew looks could be deceiving. Plus, there was a fire in her eyes that he didn’t like.
“Hello, Jesse,” Analeigh said. “This is Blake.”
Jesse smiled at him but didn’t offer her hand for him to shake. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Likewise,” he said.
She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against her door frame. “Since you’re rarely here. When I heard the noise in the hallway, I thought it was an intruder. I thought I should check it out.”
“That’s kind of you,” he said, then turned to unlock his door.
“He works strange hours,” Analeigh offered. “You’ll probably see him going more than he is coming.”
“That’s a shame,” Jesse said.
“I’m having a dinner party this weekend,” Analeigh continued. “Would you like to come?”
Blake stiffened. What was she doing? He thought this was just going to be a small dinner with friends. Anyway, he didn’t want to get to know his new neighbor. When he turned around, Jesse was glaring at him. She looked at him as if she could kill him on the spot. He made a mental note to run a background check on her.
“I can’t,” Jesse said. “But thank you.”
“Okay.” Analeigh sounded disappointed. “I’ll save you some paella.”
“I’d like that.”
“The food’s getting cold,” Blake said while he ushered Analeigh inside his condo.
“Bye, Jesse,” she called over his shoulder.
“I’ll see you guys later.”
Blake waited until Jesse went back inside her condo, then he closed his door. After he locked it, he turned around to see Analeigh’s furious stare. He walked past her to carry her overnight bag to his master suite. She set the food bags, her purse, and tote bag on the kitchen counter, then followed him.
“What was that?” he asked. “Why did you ask her to the dinner party?”
“She’s new in town and I was trying to be friendly. You didn’t have to be so rude.”
“I wasn’t being rude,” he said as he shrugged off his brown suit jacket and flung it on the floor. “I just don’t like her.”
Analeigh frowned. “You only said three words to her.”
“In my line of work, you have to be a quick judge of character. There’s something about her that feels…off. You should be more careful about who you talk to.”
After unknotting his paisley tie, he pulled it from the collar of his white shirt. Analeigh crossed to the bed. She sat down to kick off her black pumps. He took off his cuff links and placed them on the dresser.
“She seems okay.”
“No. I think you should keep your distance. At least until I’ve had the chance to check her out.”
“‘Check her out’? What, are you some kind of private eye?”
“Something like that.”
Blake watched Analeigh struggle with the zipper on her dress. She stood up, walked toward him, and turned around so that he could unfasten it. He quickly did so, then pulled the material off her shoulders to reveal the back of her black bra. With nimble fingers, he unhooked it and before she could move away, he glided his fingers down her back, causing her to shiver.
“Trust me on this,” he said. “Please.”
“Only if you tell me the truth. What do you have to tell me that might put me in danger?”
She turned around to face him. Her eyes never left his as she reached up to slowly unbutton his shirt. When the last button was undone, she pushed aside the fabric of his shirt and ran her hands over his chest. Her delicate touch caused his shaft to twitch. How could he discuss this with her while he was in such a state? Maybe it was best to wait for a more appropriate time.
Blake grabbed her around the waist. He pulled her to him and took her mouth in a hard kiss. Seconds later, his phone buzzed. He knew without looking at the screen that it was Brooklyn. With a groan, he leaned away from Analeigh. She looked annoyed at the interruption.
“You have to get that, don’t you?” she asked while moving out of his arms.
Analeigh went into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. Blake couldn’t blame her for being frustrated and angry with him. He felt the same way. When his phone buzzed a second time, he pulled it out of his pants pocket and answered it.
“Brooklyn,” he answered. “What is it?”
“Ian’s on the move.”
Blake stiffened. “Where is he?”
“We tracked him to Mexico. After that, the trail went dead.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Yesterday. Our informant thinks Ian might be in the area. Until you hear from me, lay low.”
The tendon in Blake’s jaw twitched. He didn’t want to lie low. Living in plain sight must have worked. Someone Ian knew must have tipped him off if Ian had left his hiding place to move into the area. Blake thought of his new neighbor. Could it have been her?
“Blake,” Brooklyn shouted into the phone, breaking him from his thoughts.
“Don’t do anything foolish. Think of Analeigh’s safety.”