Authors: Carly Phillips
“That’s what I thought Charlotte told me. What about you?” Her gaze strayed to Chase, and this time, she did the studying and her curiosity was evident. “Is that true for you too?” she asked.
“I’ll be home tomorrow.” Chase felt like he was being led someplace, but he hadn’t any idea where. He pinched the bridge of his nose in thought but couldn’t come up with any answers.
“Is there something I can do for you?” he asked, hoping she’d end the suspense.
She dug through her purse and pulled out an insert of pictures but didn’t turn them over. “I need someone to watch out for my daughter.”
“Sloane?” Roman asked before Chase could.
Madeline slid her finger back and forth over the top photo. “When I said she wasn’t quite herself, I was serious. She’s had some . . . disrupting personal news and she needs time alone.”
She raised her gaze to eye Chase once more and chewed on her bottom lip. “This has to be off the record.”
“Of course.” He wished he could see the picture, but she was keeping her cards close.
Madeline exhaled, obviously relieved. “Because I adore Charlotte and Roman, and because I consider myself a good judge of character, I’m trusting you with this information.”
“You won’t be sorry,” he assured her. But he wondered if he would be. He stretched his hand over the back of the sofa and waited for her to continue.
She offered him a strained smile. “I hope not. You see, Sloane took off to regroup. She went to her mother’s hometown. To
hometown,” she said to Chase.
“Why?” Roman asked, jumping back into the conversation.
“Good question,” Chase said.
“One with an easy answer. Yorkshire Falls is as quiet a place as you can get. Sloane thought she’d see where her mother grew up and maybe learn a few things about herself in the process.”
Enigmatic, Chase thought. Senator Carlisle’s daughter was searching for some R&R in his little small town? When all the family action was in D.C.? Didn’t seem entirely plausible to him. “Where do I come in?”
“How do you feel about a quid pro quo?” Madeline asked.
Chase shrugged. “Depends on what’s being exchanged.”
“I do like your style.” She tucked her hair behind one ear. “Here’s the deal. You go home early and look out for my daughter. In return you’ll get an exclusive interview with me when this is all over. I’m not certain how long she’ll be there, but I need you to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble and doesn’t call too much attention to herself. The last thing she needs is the press following her around.”
Chase leaned forward in his chair and braced his arms on his knees. “What am I in all this?”
“When it comes to Sloane, you won’t be a reporter, you’ll be a
friend.” Madeline’s eyes warmed to her idea. “And any information you want to use on our family, you’ll get from me in our interview. We agreed this was all off the record, remember?”
He remembered, all right. He just felt extremely set up and cornered and didn’t like it one bit. But Roman stood behind him, not objecting to Madeline’s deal. Which meant Roman thought this idea had merit.
Chase scrubbed a hand over his face. “What about protection?” Chase was trained to take in every detail and he’d noticed the Secret Service agents in place around the room where the senator spoke. They had to be protecting Sloane as well.
But Madeline’s next words killed that notion. “She slipped out alone. That’s why she needs you.”
He groaned. “I’m not a bodyguard. And forgive me for prying, but isn’t Sloane a grown woman? Why does she need anyone to look out for her?” The more he thought about it, the more uncomfortable he became with the idea of getting involved with this woman’s daughter in any way. He was a journalist, not a baby-sitter.
“She doesn’t think she needs anyone. It’s me.
need to know she’s okay and has someone to lean on if it comes to that.” Madeline backed up her emotional words by reaching for his hand and holding on tight.
But Chase still felt manipulated. “There’s obviously a lot you aren’t telling me.”
“That’s true. But if you want the exclusive interview, you won’t ask too many questions. You’ll just go home a day early, find Sloane, and look after her.”
Chase frowned. “Whether she wants me to or not.”
“Exactly. You’re good-looking, charming. I’m sure it won’t be too difficult to win her over.” She patted his cheek. “Make use of those Chandler genes.”
From her confident tone, Chase saw the woman behind the senator for the first time. He understood now she was a crucial
partner in the man’s climb to power. Yet, like his brother, he both liked and respected her. She obviously loved her children and would do anything for them—something Chase could relate to.
Family loyalty ran strong in the Chandler clan. Relating to her made it harder for Chase to say no.
Besides, the exclusive interview beckoned. “When her time in Yorkshire Falls is over, you’ll talk to me?”
Madeline nodded. “And if anything happens in the meantime . . . If any information needs to come from my husband’s camp, you’ll be given it first.” She held out her hand to seal the bargain.
Chase had hoped to talk with Madeline this week, but obviously that wasn’t her plan. He’d also hoped that by coming to D.C., he’d dig up something more on Senator Carlisle. If Sloane’s disappearance was any indication, Chase was close to something huge. Something that he might just find at home, in Yorkshire Falls, with the senator’s oldest daughter.
“Do we have a deal?” Madeline asked.
Chase placed his hand in hers, certain he could use this situation to his advantage somehow. “We have a deal.”
She exhaled in pure unadulterated relief. “In case you haven’t seen a close-up picture”—Madeline held out the photo she’d been zealously guarding—“this is Sloane.”
Shock and disbelief rocked through his system as he glanced at the picture, and into the eyes of the woman he’d taken to bed the night before.
orkshire Falls was the opposite of the nation’s capital. Small-town USA was an apt description, Sloane thought. Her own hometown was a wealthy community with stately mansions and equally formidable trees. But as she walked down First Street, she took in the small shops and the people who’d congregated to talk, and she liked the homey, close-knit feel. And with each older man she passed, she wondered if she’d just seen Samson. Her father.
She’d left D.C. twenty-four hours ago, but it felt like a lifetime, thanks to the drastic change in scenery. With butterflies in her stomach, she entered a coffee shop named Norman’s, located next to Charlotte’s Attic, a store owned by the same woman her stepmother had befriended and wanted to introduce her to. A woman who crocheted handmade sexy bra-and-panty sets. If Sloane weren’t in such a rush, she’d check the store out here. But she’d come on a mission to warn Samson he was in danger and she intended to accomplish her goal.
Inside Norman’s, she was surrounded by a bird motif. Birdhouses, photos and paintings of bird species, all with a light, airy feel.
A large gray-haired woman walked up to her, menu in hand. “Can I get you a table?”
“Actually, I’m looking for someone.” Sloane smiled. “This seemed like a logical place to start.”
“Honey, everyone who’s anyone in this town comes into Norman’s sooner or later. Who are you looking for?”
“A gentleman by the name of Samson Humphrey,” Sloane said, the name still sounding foreign on her tongue.
To her surprise, the woman burst out laughing, covering her face with a menu and attempting to feign coughing.
“Is something amusing?” Sloane asked, affronted and uncomfortable.
“Oh no.” The woman placed a hand on her shoulder as if they were old friends. “No, honey. Forgive me, please.” She coughed for real this time, then wiped her eyes. “It’s just that Samson’s been called many things, but no one’s ever referred to him as a gentleman before.”
Unsure what to make of the comment, Sloane felt her insides clench hard. “Can you tell me where to find him?”
“First, come sit and have a soda. Then I’ll fill you in on Samson. No one comes into Norman’s and leaves with an empty stomach,” she explained as she ushered Sloane to the swivel stools by the counter. “Drink’s on me.”
“Who’s me?” Sloane asked.
The woman wiped down the place in front of Sloane. “Oh, forgive my manners. I’m just not used to many strangers coming through. I’m Izzy. My husband, Norman, owns this place. He makes the best burgers. Just ask those Chandler boys. They live on them.”
Sloane laughed at the woman’s rambling. She had a hunch this was just the beginning of the gossip and friendliness she’d find were she to stay in this small town. Recognizing that she might have to cozy up to Izzy before getting information, Sloane decided to accept her offer. “I’ll have a diet Coke. Please.”
Izzy placed her hands on her generous hips and tsked with her tongue. “A little thing like you could use some calories. Hey, Norman,” she yelled to a graying man who stood in the kitchen, visible from a pass-through. “Get this lady a Coke.”
So much for the customer always being right, Sloane thought wryly.
Only after she was seated with a Coke in front of her and Izzy beside her, did the woman get back to the reason for Sloane’s visit. “So what do you want with Samson?”
It didn’t escape Sloane’s notice that she still hadn’t told her where the older man lived. “We have personal business.” She twirled the straw in her soda without meeting Izzy’s gaze directly, glancing out of the corner of her eye.
The other woman propped her chin on her hand. “No one’s ever had personal business with Samson that I can remember. How about you, Norman?”
“I think you should let the girl get to wherever she wants to go.” He strode from the kitchen and came up to the counter. “Too bad you weren’t here earlier. He was here mooching a chicken sandwich.”
So far, Sloane didn’t have a positive impression of Samson and no one had given her an actual description yet. “Does he live close by?”
“Everything’s close by,” Izzy explained. “Samson lives on the edge of town. When you get to the end of First, take Old Route Ten and keep going until you see the run-down place set back from the street.”
“You can’t miss it,” Norman added. “And if you can’t find him there, check out a place called Crazy Eights in Harrington.”
“Crazy Eights?” she asked, making certain she heard correctly.
“It’s a pool hall where Samson hangs out on nights he’s got cash on hand,” Norman said.
Izzy frowned. “Why’d you go and do that?” she chided her husband before turning to Sloane. “Don’t you dare go to that sleazy pool hall alone. It’s no place for a lady.”
Sloane nodded, fear resurfacing at the thought of meeting this man who was related to her in the most fundamental way. For all the thinking she’d done over the last day, she hadn’t dealt with
the fact that this man was really her father. She wasn’t ready to do it now.
And she didn’t need any more caffeine hopping through her veins and making her more jittery. She took another sip to satisfy Izzy and reached into her purse, pulling out her wallet.
Izzy smacked her hand. “Didn’t I say this was on me?”
Sloane laughed at her outrageous, frank demeanor. “Thank you.”
“Consider it your welcome-to-town present. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you back here.”
Sloane wasn’t as certain, since once she found Samson, she planned to return to D.C. During her long drive here and last night’s stay at a small motel an hour outside of Yorkshire Falls, she’d had a lot of time to think. She didn’t know what kind of threat Samson posed beyond his mere existence. But after twenty-eight years, he’d obviously decided he wanted something. Sloane had to find out what and diffuse that threat. She hoped that if he was just looking to meet his daughter, that by giving him that, he wouldn’t go public and ruin Michael Carlisle’s campaign.
Before Sloane could reply, Izzy continued. “Wait till the single men get a look at you.” She whistled loud, so some of the patrons’ heads whipped around. “Isn’t that right Norman? A new face and one as pretty as this one will make heads turn.”
But Norman had already disappeared back into the kitchen, thank goodness, sparing Sloane additional embarrassment.
As it was, heat rushed to her cheeks. “Thanks.” She couldn’t bring herself to tell the woman she might not be around a second time. “It was nice meeting you,” she said to Izzy instead.
Good-byes exchanged, Sloane finally made it back to the street. She glanced around at the beautiful gardens across the way and the fountain drizzling water in the center. There was also a gazebo tailor-made for romance rising above the surrounding
bushes. She experienced a brief twinge of regret that she wasn’t here to visit and get to know the place where her mother had grown up.
She wondered if Jacqueline had liked it here. If she’d had many friends. Would Samson know? Have stories to share about the years her mother spent before leaving him?
She rested a hand over her jumping stomach. “Nothing to do but get into the car and head out of town,” she said to herself.
Minutes later, Sloane turned onto Old Route 10, as Norman had instructed. Soon, clusters of homes gave way to a long stretch of trees lining either side of the road. Heavy fall foliage covered the perimeter in varying degrees of red, yellow, and brown, a sight that under other circumstances she’d love to take in and admire.
But a sense of urgency beckoned. One she hadn’t felt earlier. When she’d walked into Norman’s to ask about Samson, anxiety had filled her, but now fear accompanied the nervous energy that had propelled her so far. And it wasn’t fear for herself or fear of the man who was her father. Rather, she was experiencing a more amorphous dread that bordered on panic, one she couldn’t define but encompassed her anyway.
Without warning, the trees dissipated and an open field stretched in front of her. Sitting dead center, all alone on the empty land, was a pathetic-looking, dilapidated house. The closer she got, the more evident the disrepair. The roof was old and missing shingles, while the paint on the outside had cracked and peeled.