Authors: Olivia Claire High
“Try to hold back criticizing my poor manners, but I’ll have to forego being the gentleman and ask you to stay behind me when we go inside.”
“You want to use yourself as a human shield?” She waved toward the door. “Be my guest.”
Once inside Thad grasped her elbow and steered her to a chair.
“Try to relax. I’ll be right back.”
He went into the kitchen, opened a cupboard, and took out a bottle of whiskey he’d discovered while searching for the coffee. He splashed a small amount into a glass, took it into the living room, and handed it to Suzanne.
“Thanks.” She took a hefty swallow and coughed. “Yuk, I hate the taste of this stuff.”
“Yeah? How is it I found the bottle in your cupboard?”
“My dad left it here on one of his rare visits.” She took a smaller sip and set the glass aside. “Do you think that car was following us when we left the house?”
“Not that I could see, but it’s possible. The Montanes are going to be watching your every move. Or they could have already known we were going to be at that café and took it from there.”
“The only person who knew besides us was Heather.”
“They may be watching her house.”
“Is she in danger?” Suzanne sucked in a breath. “I couldn’t bear having something happen to her or her husband because of their association with me and my wacky father.”
Suzanne’s phone rang before Thad had a chance to comment. He looked at the caller ID before handing her the phone.
“It’s your mother. Just so you know, your calls are being monitored.”
“As if my privacy hasn’t been compromised enough,” she said before taking the phone from him. “Mom? I’m glad you finally called. I’ve been worried after the way you took off on such short notice. Are you okay?”
Thad took the glass back to the kitchen. He would check later to hear the full conversation. He rinsed the glass out and leaned against the counter. He couldn’t help feeling sympathy for Suzanne’s dilemma, especially knowing how she was forced to deal with such selfish parents. It made a person think how some people should be banned from procreating.
But then Suzanne wouldn’t have been born. He shook his head trying to remind himself again that he wasn’t here to hit on her. The key was to keep his emotional distance while continuing to make sure she stayed safe. Losing his focus could end up being a deadly mistake.
For both of them.
Thad turned from the kitchen window when Suzanne entered the room.
“My mother’s in Mexico soaking up some sun and fun. She says she hasn’t heard from my dad. You probably already know all that, or you will soon enough since you bugged my phone. Lucky for her she’s getting to extend her vacation.”
“I told you I’d see to it that you’ll get reimbursed for your cruise.”
“Forget it. I don’t care about that anymore. I’m just venting as usual. I also came in to tell you I’m sorry for falling apart when that car started following us.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You got us here okay.”
“I wish I could be as blasé about it as you seem to be. It gives me the creeps to know I’m being watched. Do you think I should tell Heather about this latest development?”
“No. She knows enough already. You said she has a tendency to panic.”
“She does. Now that I think about it, there’s no sense adding to a pot that’s usually pretty much ready to boil over as it is.”
“There you go.”
Suzanne opened the refrigerator and shut it after staring inside for a few seconds. She faced Thad.
“I don’t know why I’m looking in here. I let everything pretty much run out before my trip. We never made it to the store. I need to buy food. I also have several errands to run. How do you feel about going shopping?”
“About as excited as a visit to a proctologist.”
His expression and dry tone gave Suzanne the first genuine laugh she’d had in far too long.
They were arguing by the end of the week like a couple of people stuck in a bad marriage. To make matters worse, the sexual tension between them had risen to the point that the air practically crackled with the sparks they were sending off each other. The more they tried to ignore the magnetism, the more the attraction seemed to build. That pressure came very close to exploding early one morning when they literally ran into each other in the narrow hallway outside the bathroom.
Thad, fresh from the shower and clad in a towel
slung low on his lean hips, eyed Suzanne in her short robe, as he grabbed her by the upper arms to steady her. She instinctively pressed her hands against his bare chest. Their eyes locked.
They stared at each other like a couple of hungry animals ready to pounce. No one would be able to mistake his body’s obvious reaction to her nearness and the thin material of her robe did nothing to hide the fact that her breasts had responded to his touch. A vein beat a mad tempo at Thad’s temple while Suzanne’s pulse throbbed in the small hollow at the base of her throat. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms while her fingers flexed against his chest.
“I’m sorry. I thought I waited long enough for you to be back in your bedroom.”
“You don’t have to apologize. This is your house.”
“I’m going to take my shower now.”
His eyes gleamed, as though he was imagining her naked.
“I left you plenty of hot water.”
“Thank you. I guess you’ll be going back to your bedroom now.”
Thad watched in fascination as Suzanne touched her lips with the tip of her tongue.
He groaned, and pulled her against him, covering her mouth with his. Suzanne’s arms went around his neck as he deepened the kiss. He lifted his head several seconds later.
“I’m going back to my bedroom, but I won’t be going alone,” he growled in a hoarse voice before swinging her up into his arms to carry her down the hallway.
He laid her on the tangled bedding and came down beside her. His towel inched down his hips. Her robe slipped off one shoulder. Thad nipped the exposed area before letting his lips travel to kiss the tender flesh above one breast. He moved to her mouth and several seconds went by as their kisses became increasingly heated. Suzanne dug her fingers into his shoulders and moaned his name when he suddenly pulled away and jackknifed into a sitting position. She frowned and rose up on her elbows to stare at him.
“Why did you stop?”
“We can’t do this, Suzanne.”
She frowned at him.
“We both want to, and you know it.”
“Because we want each other doesn’t make it right. I’m here to protect you, not seduce you.”
“It’s not seducing if I’m cooperating. I want you to make love to me, Thad.”
“The last few weeks have been very unsettling for you. You’re not thinking straight.”
“Yes I am, and I know that I want you.”
He lifted a brow.
“I thought you said you hated me.”
“Looks like you kind of grew on me.”
He smiled before his expression turned serious again.
“Are you sure I’m not just someone you’re using as a rebound to get over your fiancé?”
“Ex-fiancé! And if you think mentioning him is going to make me hate you all over again, it’s not going to work. I really, really want you.”
“I’m flattered, but I’m all wrong for you. You’re the kind of woman who should have marriage and kids with a guy who’ll be a real husband to you. Those things have never even been a blip on my radar. I’m doing you a favor by backing out before this gets too complicated for both of us.”
Suzanne scrambled to her knees and put her arms around him when he started to stand up.
“Stop thinking so much about the future and go with the now. We’re two consenting adults who happen to be attracted to each other. I’m not talking marriage here. I won’t expect a commitment from you, Thad. When it’s time for you to leave I’ll let you go. I promise. No strings.”
He pulled her arms away and rolled off the bed.
“I appreciate that. The problem is I may not be able to let you go.”
“Wait, please.” She grabbed him by the hand to stop him from leaving. “Can’t we just talk?”
“Not with you dressed like that,” he said pointing to her gaping robe.
She quickly yanked it closed.
“Is this better?”
“Not much. I still know what’s underneath there.”
“Come on, Thad. Give me a break. You just told me you may not be able to let me go, and now you want to walk away. That’s like starting a sentence and leaving off the punctuation. Was that a tease?”
He shook his head.
“No, I’m just trying to be honest. I can’t deny that I’m attracted to you, but I can control whether or not I act on those feelings. I told you I’m not the right kind of guy for you. You need someone in a nine-to-five job, who comes through the door Monday through Friday to have dinner with you. Someone who mows the lawn on Saturdays and sits in his recliner and watches Sunday football on television.”
“I already had that. It didn’t work out.”
Thad ran a finger down her cheek.
“Because he didn’t love you.”
“Well, certainly not enough to stick around.”
“That’s just it, Suzanne. You deserve a guy who will stick around, and I’m not that man.”
Thad stood outside the kitchen door drinking his coffee while he looked around the yard. Suzanne sat at the table watching him. She couldn’t seem to make herself pull her eyes away. So many different emotions were swirling around inside of her she didn’t know what to think. She felt a certain amount of embarrassment at his rejection and tried to appreciate the fact that he didn’t want to hurt her. Her brain understood that, but her body struggled to accept his decision.
Could this be more than a sexual thing she was feeling for Thad, or was she falling in love with him? She and James had been together for two years, but he never made her feel the way she did when she was around Thad. She turned out not to be the woman James wanted. Could things be different with Thad?
Would she ever be what any man wanted? Was it so wrong to want to be loved? James made her believe she lacked something, even if she didn’t know what that something was. Suzanne buried her face in her hands. Another new, complicated level had just been added to her life.
Suzanne looked up and stared at Thad again, and the emotion came pouring out of her. She really had fallen in love with him. It made her realize what she’d felt for James paled in comparison to this newfound feeling. Thad was right about her. She did plan to have a husband and kids with James. But now she wanted that and so much more with Thad. Never mind what she told him about not expecting a commitment.
She’d have to find a way to convince him they could make a relationship work. Her plan with James fizzled, but there wasn’t any law that said she couldn’t come up with a new plan. This time it was definitely going to include Thad if she had any say in the matter. No way was she going to let him disappear out of her life, whether he thought he was right for her or not
Of course, there wasn’t a lot either of them could do as far as planning their future until all this craziness with her father ended. If only he’d go to the police she wouldn’t have to keep worrying about the Montanes getting to him. It gave her the willies thinking about their black feathers. She’d emptied the wastebasket getting rid of the one in her closet. But throwing it away hadn’t stopped her from remembering the two feathers she received so far were each followed by two scary situations.
Would there be a third? If so, what catastrophe did the Montanes have in store for her next? How many feathers did they give before they decided to get rid of a person? Would there be more car chases? Threats to her and her friends? Or, God help her, death to anyone who dared to help her? Her whole body clenched with fear at such a horrible thought.
Suzanne got up to rinse her coffee cup. She stood at the sink wishing she could stop thinking about the feathers and wondered if she’d made a mistake by not telling Thad about them. On the other hand, what good would it do other than give him one more thing to watch out for? He didn’t need any dramatic symbols to tell him they were in danger. As much as she’d like to pretend his attraction to her was the only thing keeping him here, she knew better.
The phone rang at that moment breaking into her troubled thoughts. Suzanne saw Thad look at her, but he stayed outside. She checked the caller ID and lifted her brows in surprise at the name. She joined him outside a few minutes later.
“Problem?” he asked.
“No. That was my roommate from college. Her name is Cissy Bordly. She lives a couple hours away. She’s married with a baby boy, so I don’t see too much of her these days. But she’s going to be in town this afternoon and wants to meet me for lunch. I accepted because she sounded so anxious to see me. Now I’m worried about being followed again or something happening to her. I don’t want to put her in danger like I did Heather. Maybe I should call her back and cancel.”
“Don’t do that. I think the visit will do you good. We’ll use the service alley gate and cut through your neighbor’s yard. I’ll call a cab after we walk a couple of blocks and have it pick us up there. No one will know we left the house and you won’t have to worry about anyone tailing your friend.”
“Okay. Just as long as no one goes after Cissy. Thank you for letting me go see her.”
“I’m not here to control your life. I’m just trying to see that you stay alive long enough to live it.”
“I realize that, but sometimes it’s kind of hard to differentiate between the two.”
Cissy, a short, slightly chubby blonde with a harried expression met them inside the dark paneled pub she’d chosen. The two women embraced. Her eyes widened in surprise when Suzanne introduced Thad as a friend from her cruise.
“We used to come here in our younger days,” she explained to him. “I guess I’m feeling a little nostalgic. I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t choose someplace fancier, Suzanne.”
“Of course not. I remember the sandwiches here are great.” She turned to Thad. “Try the roast beef.”
“I just might do that.”
Thad and Suzanne ordered beer with their sandwiches while Cissy opted for water explaining she was nursing her baby. Suzanne couldn’t help noticing that her friend only ate a few bites of her food. She asked Suzanne to accompany her to the restroom as soon as Suzanne finished eating. Cissy checked to make sure the two stalls were empty immediately after the door closed.
“Cissy, is everything all right? I don’t mean to pry, but you seem a little jumpy.”
“Your father called me this morning,” she blurted out.
“It’s true. That’s the real reason I asked you to meet with me. Oh, I’m sorry. That didn’t sound very nice. I did want to see you, too, of course. I just wish it could have been strictly for social reasons.”
Suzanne didn’t have time to feel offended. She was too busy worrying that someone else she knew had been dragged into her nightmare. She felt an icy jab of fear in the pit of her stomach at the idea of her father putting another friend in danger. Why had he chosen to involve Cissy? He barely knew the woman.
“He called you? That’s certainly a surprise. What did he want?”
“He sounded very distraught. He said he’s been doing undercover work for the Feds involving a couple of big time drug lords. They found out, and your dad barely escaped with his life. He says he has enough evidence to put them away, but he’s afraid they’ll kill him if he comes out of hiding.”
Suzanne barely managed to keep her anger in check. Leave it to her father to make it sound like he was some kind of hero.
“He should have called me and not bothered you.”
“He explained that. He said the group he infiltrated is very dangerous. They know you’re his daughter, which means they’re probably watching your house and may even be having your phone calls monitored in case he tries to get in touch with you. He’s worried the same thing may be true with your mother. He doesn’t want either of you to get hurt.”
“But he didn’t hesitate to involve you. I apologize for that.”
“Your dad said those people would never guess he’d be calling me.” She rummaged in her purse and pulled out a slip of paper. “This is the number where you can reach him. But be careful. He gave me strict instructions to tell you not to give the number to anyone else or to use your own phones.”
Suzanne took the paper.
“Cissy, there’s something you should know about Thad.”
“I know he’s not your fiancé. I have a feeling he’s more than just a friend from your cruise. Right?”
“Yes, and he knows about Dad.”
She squeezed Suzanne’s arm.
“You can’t tell him about that phone number. I promised your dad you’d be the only one to know about it. He begged me to be sure you kept this to yourself. He said you shouldn’t trust anyone. Please do as he asked. I don’t want his blood on my hands.”